More than 30 search and rescue personnel negotiated fast-flowing waters in the Malibu Creek State Park area last night in a “very risky” bid to reach four California hikers who had become stranded by rising flood waters.
The hikers, three men and one woman from Long Beach, California., were rescued at 3 a.m. this morning and were reported to be cold and shaken, but uninjured. They were later released by medical personnel. The four were rescued from a rock pool area on Malibu Creek that had become overrun by flood waters, about 30 miles west of Los Angeles. The creek serves as a major outlet for rain waters from the Santa Monica Mountains and was under flash flood conditions this weekend.
According to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, rescuers were sent out at 6:30 p.m. after dispatch received a distress call from one of the hikers who said they were trapped by rising waters and their cell phones were dying.
Capt. Mike Parker said reaching the four individuals was extremely difficult and dangerous for the search teams, which comprised the Malibu Search and Rescue Team, L.A. Sheriff’s Office, L.A. Fire and Rescue and the nearby Ventura County Sheriff’s Office personnel.
“It was a very, very risky rescue,” Parker said. “It was quite a remote area. There’s absolutely no lighting there at all.” But he said that without efforts to rescue the four, they probably wouldn’t have survived.
“The creek was swollen and rising, and we were very concerned that they would be drowned where they were,” Parker said.
Extremely fast-flowing waters, poor visibility and mounting storm conditions slowed the search considerably, so locating the four took hours, said Malibu Search and Rescue Capt. David Katz. He said the storm conditions this weekend should have discouraged anyone from going hiking, especially in remote mountainous areas that have been deluged by flash storm conditions.
“After several days of torrential rains, we were shocked that anyone would have gone out hiking, let alone in an area with water rushing in excess of 20 MPH,” said Katz.
Katz said that it was just good fortune that none of the hikers had fallen into the rushing water, as they probably wouldn’t have survived.
“The water level had reached epic proportions and the speed at which the water was flying through the rock formations was tremendously dangerous.”
But those conditions also made trying to rescue them extremely hazardous for the searchers, who were also at risk of being swept away by the current and were now being hampered by increasing visibility problems.
“While rescuers could initially see the hikers’ flashlight, after a few hours, the flashlight died and the rescuers were essentially blind to the exact location [of the hikers],” Katz said.
The four later said that they had been able to see the rescuers, but due visibility in the steep gorge the rescuers could not see them or hear their calls from the distance. Fortunately, the hikers were able to communicate that they were safe and could see the team’s lights before their cell phones had died, which aided the searchers in determining where to look.
Finally after several hours of combing the area by inflatable raft, the rescue team located the stranded hikers at 2:30 a.m. A Ventura County Search and Rescue helicopter was then able to lift them out of the area by hoist and transport them to a safe area, where medical teams confirmed they were unhurt.
Rain and wind continued to pound Southern California through Saturday as it gradually moved east. One of the strongest storm systems in recent history brought tornado warnings and 12-foot-high waves to the L.A. area, while homeowners in the outlying San Gabriel Valley were threatened by mud slides due to fires last summer that had parched the area. Emergency evacuations were in effect in those areas lying below fire-stricken hillsides.
Despite the severity of this weekend’s storm, which brought two inches to L.A. over the weekend, meteorologists warn that Southern California is still under drought conditions. Normal winter rainfall levels are around 11 inches for the Los Angeles area.
By Jan Lee