About 15 hikers who were lost and stranded in Eaton Canyon overnight were located Monday morning after heavy fog lifted from the San Gabriel Mountains, allowing rescue helicopters to spot the group and airlift them one by one to safety.
Multiple hikers were reported missing in the area around 11 p.m. Sunday, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Deputy Hernandez said. Friends of the hikers said the group had left earlier that day.
The group was located around 9 a.m., and crews from sheriff's Air Rescue 5 hoisted them from the steep walls of the canyon, Sky5 aerial video showed.
Two hikers who separated from the others made it out of the canyon during the night and told authorities they did not know where the others were. The group was from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Huntington Park.
The last text message sent by one of the missing hikers stated "help," and officials said the hikers were in potentially dangerous, very rugged terrain.
The group was "pretty well prepared" and had ropes, harnesses, helmets, food and water among them, but were not ready for an overnight trip, sheriff's Deputy Daniel Paige said.
The group, which included members ranging in age from 15 to 35, was airlifted to the Henninger Flats area, near the top of Eaton Canyon. They had waived emergency blankets, catching the eye of the crew in the Sheriff's Department helicopter.
Two members of the group were treated for hypothermia and two others suffered minor leg injuries during the rescue, the Los Angeles Times reported.
After their rescue, one of the hikers said the group had lost track of time and it got dark, so they decided to stay where they were for the night.
“It was just cold. We were wet, we were tired, but we just decided the best thing we could do was stay there and rest,” hiker Nancy Picado said. “We built a fire to keep ourselves warm. Nothing happened to us, thank God.”
Before the group was located, a woman whose sister was with them told KTLA she was not concerned and felt confident the group would be found.
“This is something we do regularly, it’s nothing new," Wenderlyn Ortiz said. "It’s a big group and not everybody has the same physical capability of walking for a long time. We assume someone got tired and they stopped."
At least 20 people searched for the missing hikers overnight and two helicopters joined the efforts before 8 a.m. Fog prevented the choppers from launching at daybreak, Paige said.
James Moussally of Altadena Mountain Rescue, which searched on the ground, said he hoped the incident would teach other hikers to come to the wilderness prepared with equipment, clothes, water and food for a variety of conditions and emergencies.
"There's a little saying that we tend to use ... to the effect of, I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it," Moussally said.