RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif. (AP) — Crews ramped up the search Thursday for a teenage hiker lost for a fifth day in a California forest after her companion was found dehydrated and disoriented the night before, telling family members the girl might be injured but struggling to answer questions about where she might be.
Searchers aided by a sheriff's helicopter with infrared sensors were on the scene before dawn in Cleveland National Forest hoping to locate Kyndall Jack, 18.
Her friend Nicolas Cendoya, 19, was discovered parched and without shoes by another hiker shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday less than a mile from where the pair's car was parked. He was airlifted to a hospital.
Cendoya was talking to paramedics but struggling to answer questions about what had happened and where Jack might be.
"He was extremely confused and disoriented," said Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Jason Park.
Kyndall's father, Russ Jack, told the Los Angeles Times that Cendoya was able to share some information despite his dazed state.
"Nicolas obviously was disoriented because of dehydration. ... He thought that Kyndall had already been rescued," the father said. "But apparently Kyndall has twisted her ankle or something and could not keep up with Nicholas trying to get out of the brush they're in."
Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Jon Muir said he had not heard about the possible injury to Jack, and noted that Cendoya had been giving all kinds of inconsistent answers.
Sheriff's investigators planned to talk to him at length once he was recovering at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. They hoped to get more direction on where to look for Jack, who was hiking with Cendoya Sunday when the pair made a 911 call from a dying cellphone and set off the search.
Muir gave new details about Cendoya's phone call Sunday night.
"He was panting and said, 'We're out of water.' You could hear Kyndall in the background. He said, 'I think we're about a mile or two from the car,' and he was right about the distance but in totally the wrong direction," Muir said.
The hiker who came across Cendoya Wednesday night went for help and found a firefighting training crew not involved in the search that just happened to be nearby, Park said.
They found Cendoya eight-tenths of a mile south of where much of the search had focused, about 500 feet from a dirt road that sees regular vehicle traffic. He was surrounded by so much vegetation that the helicopter rescue crew had trouble keeping track of him once they found him.
"When the rescuer was lowered he lost sight of him," said Division Chief Kris Concepcion of the Orange County Fire Authority. "That's how thick the brush was."
When he was found he was wearing board shorts, a shirt but no shoes.
Cendoya was in serious but stable condition, Mission Hospital's Dr. Matthew Kaplan told TV reporters.
"He's strong, he's young, he's a healthy young man, and he's pulling through," Kaplan said.
Several dozen searchers with help from helicopters had been combing the rugged hills of Trabuco Canyon in the national forest.
Two volunteers got lost themselves and had to be airlifted out Wednesday afternoon. They were searching the area because the Sunday 911 call was traced to a nearby cell tower, Muir said.
Muir said earlier that Cendoya and Jack's "probability for survival is good" with mild weather both day and night.
The two were believed to have gone off trail near Holy Jim Trail, a tree-lined dirt path along a creek that leads to a waterfall and is popular with day hikers.
The area is in a section of the national forest in the Santa Ana Mountains, which lie along the border of Orange and Riverside counties southeast of Los Angeles. The trail ranges in elevation from about 2,000 feet to about 4,000 feet.
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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