A day after a historic blizzard warning for the San Bernardino County mountains ended, Riley Ramirez and Cole White embarked on a 10-day backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail through parts of the snowy mountains.
The first two days of their trip seemed to go as planned, but on Tuesday — just as a second brutal winter storm swept into the region — the 17-year-olds’ parents lost contact with them.
That afternoon snow fell in the mountains, pouring buckets from the sky more than 30 centimeters in some places within 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service, on top of snow from the earlier blizzard. Many mountain communities were snowbound, forcing rescues and requiring additional resources for the growing emergency.
The teen hikers likely encountered 4 to 5 feet of snow drifts, limited visibility and freezing temperatures, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office.
On Friday — three days since anyone contacted Riley and Cole — their parents called for a search and rescue team to find the teens along the trail at Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California.
A sheriff’s helicopter spotted the duo along a remote section of the trail near Mission Creek and landed in heavy snow to bring the 17-year-olds back to safety, the sheriff’s office said.
The teens were mildly hypothermic after spending the past three nights huddled together to stay warm, according to the Associated Press. They told sheriff’s officials they didn’t think they would survive.
Riley’s father, Cesar Ramirez, told the AP that his son’s jacket was blown off and their tent was broken. Although the two teens were avid, well-prepared hikers with extensive training and plans to join the military, Ramirez said, the weather proved too treacherous.
Just a day earlier, a man was rescued north of Death Valley National Park after his vehicle was buried in snow, according to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office.
The man was reported missing Tuesday, days after he attempted to drive from Big Pine to Gardnerville as many roads remained closed due to the severe snow storm that hit days before.
The Inyo County search and rescue team attempted to search for the man along its planned route on Highway 168, but the storm over the next 24 hours delayed efforts.
On Thursday, nearly a week after the last known contact with the driver, rescuers found a vehicle partially buried in snow near Death Valley Road, a rough road south of Highway 168 that leads to Death Valley National Park.
The man was transported by helicopter and later released from hospital. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office has not identified him.
On March 1, a man was rescued after his vehicle became stuck in deep snow near Cold Water Canyon, according to a Statement from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Mission Viejo’s Brandon Henson attempted to go off-road on Tuesday when the second winter storm brought more snow to the area, eventually falling about four feet around him.
Henson, 31, tried to dig his vehicle out of the snow but was unsuccessful and unable to call for help without good cell service, the statement said. Hours later, one of his text messages went through and his girlfriend alerted officials that Henson needed help the next morning.
Heavy snow prevented vehicles from reaching Henson, so the sheriff’s helicopter patrolled the area and found his vehicle, the statement said.
Officials reported no serious injuries in the three rescues.