The grim hunt for a missing young couple from Westminster was expected to resume Wednesday after about 25 searchers braved triple-digit temperatures in Joshua Tree National Park looking for the two who haven’t been seen since last week.
Park rangers made the decision to close the Maze Loop Trail to the public so searchers could preserve as much tracking clues as possible as they continued Tuesday to look for Rachel Nguyen, 20, and Joseph Orbeso, 21.
“The public and press were going up there, and obviously the more people walking around potentially destroys leaves and tracks,” Geoge Land, a spokesman for the park, told City News Service. “It’s even hard when someone’s not stepping on (the tracks).”
Searchers have braved thunderstorms, sizzling temperatures and “ungodly” moonsoonal humidity, Land said. Up to six professional trackers have been evacuated since the hunt began Friday, he said, “and we can only bring the dogs in from 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. before they’re overheated.”
The hounds are brought back at sundown.
“We’re not using that `r’ word — as in recovery — but we’re preparing the family for that,” Land said.
The two are young and in good shape, so there’s some hope, Land said. In 2010, a 64-year-old Realtor who was an experienced hiker managed to survive six days until he was found, he said.
Over the weekend, 60 to 100 trackers were sent in and officials had two fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters with six canine units on the prowl for the missing hikers, Land said.
“We said, `Let’s hit it quick and hard and find them while the getting is good,” he said. “But we just haven’t had a lot of leads. There were some good tracks picked up, but it hasn’t led to either (hiker).”
It is “highly unusual” to lose track of hikers for this long, Land said.
“Occasionally, people get turned around, but if we have to go in and get them, it usually takes two to three hours,” Land said.
Authorities got a “ping” off of Orbeso’s phone about 4 p.m. Thursday from somewhere in the park, Land said.
Cell service is difficult to establish in the park, he said.
The families of the two had been unaware of their trip to Joshua Tree, Land said. Park rangers advise hikers to tell someone when and where they are going and to call authorities if they don’t return at a certain hour, because that will make it easier for trackers to find them, Land said.
The pair arrived in the area to rent a room from a resident Wednesday night, Land said.
“They said they were going to hike the park” the following day, he said, and were advised to pack plenty of water.
When the two had not checked out mid-morning Friday as planned, the man who rented them the room went to check on them and saw all of their belongings still in the room, but their car was gone, Land said. He called the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which triggered the search, Land said.
The car entered the park about 6:45 a.m. Thursday, Land said, and was later found in the lot near the Maize Loop trail.
–City News Service
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