Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area is one of California’s hillier locales. In the same region as the famous Topanga Canyon and the rocky gorges where the Manson Family stalked starlets, the area is wild and rugged and full of washes where sudden mudslides and floods can come down out of the mountains toward Malibu and the sea in minutes. Such conditions were met recently as California was beset by the largest rainstorm since December of 2010. In this environment of flash floods and rocky canyons four hikers survived the storm, narrowly avoiding hypothermia or worse to be rescued early this morning from rising floodwaters.
At approximately 6:30pm last night a distress call was received from one of the four hikers. Search and rescue sprang into action to locate the stranded adventurers, all in their mid-twenties, who were trapped in a rocky area with the floodwaters rising around them.
During the search, the hikers resorted to text messaging to avoid loss of battery, and searchers were hard put to locate them. The storm made it impossible for helicopters to get near to their location or to sight them in the fog and blustery nighttime conditions.
Forced to seek out the stranded hikers on foot and by raft, search and rescue teams were approximately 200 hundred yards below the four, who were hidden by darkness on a slippery island of rock in the midst of the flooding creek. At this point, a chance break in the weather allowed Ventura County Sheriff’s Department helicopters to move in to their location.
The hikers were found pinned to a cliff by the water, standing on rocks to stay out of the rising waters as temperatures dropped rapidly. Because of the added light from the helicopter, the rescue teams were able to sight the group and bring them far enough from the cliff in rafts for the air crews to approach.
All four hikers survived the storm and flooding to be airlifted out of the gorge. The rescue occurred at approximately 3:15am. The hikers were afforded medical attention, though there were no injuries reported except for cold and the usual scrapes that come from hiking.
Over 30 people took part in the rescue, including sheriff’s deputies, members of the fire department, and a swift water rescue crew. The names of the hikers have not yet been released.
Search and rescue efforts are usually manned by volunteers, but there are some costs associated with the teams, including the cost of operating boats and helicopters. A standard helicopter can cost up to $1,600 per hour to operate.
The National Parks Service logged 3,600 search and rescue efforts in 2007 alone, at a cost of three to five million dollars. SAR efforts such as the one that occurred in California, operated by local sheriff’s departments, are less well accounted for, and usually include more volunteer elements. The cost of this operation near Malibu has not yet been calculated; but the profit was four lives saved as these hikers survived California’s worst storm in years and its ensuing floods.
By Kat Turner