One of the hikers rescued from Cleveland National Forest last week says he can’t believe he survived and is happy he and his hiking partner are alive.
Nicolas Cendoya, 19, was released Sunday from Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo in high spirits, good health, and with a new perspective on life.
“I feel like I’ve been a little selfish lately,” he said. “I needed this to become the person I am supposed to be.”
He thanked the firefighters and volunteers who spent days searching for the couple. He called the Orange County reserve deputy in critical condition who fell 60 feet while searching for his companion a “true hero.”
Cendoya suffered severe dehydration after getting lost and separated during a hike from his partner, 18-year old Kyndal Jack. He said the two aimed to climb to the top of a mountain to "touch the clouds," adding, "we honestly didn’t think it through.".
The couple started off March 31st on the Holy Jim Trail in Trabuco Canyon, but somehow went off course, said Cendoya. They were on the top of a cliff in the gathering dark when they realized they were out of water and out of cell phone battery, he said.
“I’m going to get you out of here” Cendoya said he told Jack. “Just hang on to me.”
Cendoya said he doesn’t remember the point at which the two were separated. He believes it was when they fell during their trek down the canyon. After that, Cendoya remembers hallucinating, thinking that tigers and raccoons were trying to attack him. He said he sucked water off of plants to survive.
“I saw the helicopters flying over me every day,” he said.
Crowds of volunteers searched for Cendoya and Jack. He was rescued last Wednesday; she was found on Thursday.
The only visible signs of trauma on Cendoya are several scratches and puncture wounds crisscrossing his arms.
Cendoya suffered a significant blunt force trauma to the chest, probably as a result from the fall, said Dr. Stephen Desantis. That caused air to leak outside of his lungs into his chest cavity, he said.
Dr. Desantis said Cendoya was disoriented from a concussion and extremely dehydrated, but because of his youth and strong physique, he recovered quickly, although not fast enough to go hiking right away.
“Not this week,” Desantis recommended.
Cendoya said he plans on seeing Kyndall Jack in the hospital. He read a Facebook post she sent to him.
“I just want to see her more than anything,” he said. “Just so I know she’s okay.”