Teen hiker found alive after three days, friend still missing

A 19-year-old who had been missing in California's Cleveland National Forest for three days was found alive late Wednesday, police said, but the search continued for his hiking companion.
By Melissa Pamer, Samantha Tata, Beverly White and Robert Kovacik, NBCLosAngeles.com

A 19-year-old who had been missing in California's Cleveland National Forest for three days was found alive late Wednesday, police said, but the search continued for his hiking companion.

Rescue crews ratcheted up their search of the rugged terrain about 7:50 p.m. PT (10:50 p.m. ET) after receiving a tip from a hiker who said he had spotted Nicholas Cendoya. The whereabouts of Cendoya's friend Kyndall Jack, 18, were not immediately known, Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Jason Park said.

As the search continued for Jack, Cendoya was airlifted from the canyon and taken to a hospital, where he was listed in serious condition. Hospital officials said Cendoya was "foraging for food off the land" to survive.

"He is weak, severely dehydrated and slightly confused," Orange County Fire Authority’s Kris Concepcion said.

Waiting at the Trabuco Canyon Fire Station, a command post during the search, Cendoya's friends and family erupted in cheers when they were told the teen had been found alive.

The young hikers, both from Costa Mesa, Calif., had called 911 at 8:30 p.m. PT (11:30 p.m. ET) on Easter Sunday to say they were lost, but their cellphone batteries died and authorities could not locate them.

Since Monday, searchers on foot, dogs and helicopters have been combing over a network of trails in the Holy Jim Canyon area, trying to find the two teens.

On Wednesday, dozens of volunteers joined official search crews that began work at 6 a.m. PT (9 a.m. ET) -- so many extra searchers that some were turned away.

A couple of volunteer searchers had gotten lost in the afternoon and were in cellphone communication with authorities, who had not been able to track them down as of 6 p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET), according to authorities on scene.

Russ Jack, Kyndall Jack's father, begged volunteers to stay away from the search area unless they're experienced hikers. He called the scene a "modern-day circus" but assured volunteers he was grateful for their efforts.

"We don't need lookey-loos up here just hanging out and not helping. If you're not an experienced hiker or a mountain biker, then please stay home," Russ Jack said. "There's just too many people, and it's hurting the efforts that the authorities have put into this right now."

Dawn Jack, Kyndall's mom, teared up in front of news cameras when the pair spoke.

"We just need our children to come home safely," Dawn Jack said. "We need for everybody else to leave here safe, so please help us out now by not coming up just to hang out. … We know you love us and are supporting us."

Officials with the Orange County Sheriff's Department said enough personnel had been scheduled to continue the search through the weekend.

"We're going to increase the number of our ground searches. We're going to commence with air operations in strategic areas with high terrain that's difficult to traverse," said Orange County Fire Authority spokesman Capt. Jon Muir. "It's going to be a combined effort, and we're not going to stop until we have a good resolution."

Authorities have said the fairly mild conditions in the area are survivable, even when temperatures drop overnight. But the terrain off-trail can be difficult, and it's possible one or both of the hikers were injured, search officials said.

Grief counselors were at Costa Mesa High School -- the pair's alma mater -- for the first time on Wednesday. Cendoya played football, while Jack is known as "the jackhammer" on the volleyball team.

NBCLosAngeles.com’s Vikki Vargas contributed to this report.
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