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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 4:33 am | Mostly Cloudy 47º


Sheriff’s Search & Rescue Deploys on Simultaneous Searches For Lost Hikers

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, an all-volunteer branch of the Sheriff’s Office, has been exceptionally busy the past several weeks.  

This year the team has responded to more than 70 calls for service which resulted in more than 1,000 volunteer hours.

On Sunday, they were deployed at approximately 8 p.m. on two separate searches for lost hikers in different backcountry areas of Santa Barbara County.

The first incident involved two hikers in their early 30s from Culver City who were hiking in the Grass Mountain Canyon area below Figueroa Mountain north of Los Olivos.  

The out-of-town hikers were looking for wildflowers when they took several wrong turns and ended up stranded on a cliff.  

Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team members deployed on two searches Sunday night including to the Grass Mountain Canyon. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team members deployed on two searches Sunday night including to the Grass Mountain Canyon.  (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue photo)

The sun went down leaving them with only the light from one of their cell phones. The hikers were fearful of falling off the cliff and called 9-1-1 for help.  

At the same time, two hikers in their mid-20s from Los Angeles were reported lost and stranded in the Upper Mission Ridge region near the intersection of E. Camino Cielo and Gibraltar Roads also known as the “Rocky Ridge.”  

At approximately 4 p.m. these hikers had set out on a hike up a trail they had read about called “Rock Garden” which is not commonly used. When the sun began to set they decided to hike back to their car.  

While they were hiking down the trail, they missed the main trail and continued further down into the canyon to a point where the trail ended. They were trying to reach Gibraltar Road and in reality they were going 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

The hikers became entangled in the thick brush and were unable to move any further one way or the other. The hikers did not have water, adequate clothing and the only light they had was from a cell phone.  

The disoriented and lost hikers used the phone to call 9-1-1 for help.

Dispatchers with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Emergency Communication Center took both calls at approximately the same time and alerted SBCSAR.

Fourteen personnel responded to the two simultaneous incidents and were divided up to respond to the separate locations. Responders to the call on Grass Mountain hiked in using GPS coordinates supplied by dispatchers along with data from the SBCSAR location finding phone app which enabled them to pinpoint the stranded hiker’s location.  

Ground teams then climbed up to the subjects and helped them off the cliff they were stranded on and hiked them back down to the trailhead on Figueroa Mountain Road where they were released to drive home.

The second set of SBCSAR responders attempted to locate the “Rocky Ridge” lost subjects using the same technology methods but due to poor cellular coverage and a low battery on the lost subject’s phone, accurate GPS coordinates were not available.  

In one of the brief cellular calls SBCSAR was able to have with the subjects, enough information was obtained to start ground teams into the canyon where they were believed to be located.

As the teams were entering the area, they discovered fresh tracks indicating the likely path the missing hikers took.

SBCSAR personnel continued tracking their footprints and calling out to the missing hikers until voice contact was established.

Using SBCSAR’s night vision and FLIR equipment, the two subjects were seen approximately 500 feet down the canyon in thick brush.  

After taking compass bearings, team members worked their way down through the brush and located the hikers.

Once re-hydrated and given warm clothing, SBCSAR assisted the hikers back out of the canyon, onto the trail and back to Gibraltar Road where they were released just after 11 ​p.m.

SBCSAR reminds all hikers to take adequate supplies on all hikes, no matter how short, including extra batteries for GPS and cellular phones.  

For additional hiking tips go to www.sbcsar.org.

— Kelly Hoover is public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. 

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