El Capitan. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
El Capitan. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Two Fullerton firefighters who went missing during a six-day backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park were found today and within hours were headed home after what their boss described as a “life-changing” experience for them.

The exact conditions of Dave Brown and Javier Avelar, who failed to return from the trip as scheduled on Sunday, were not immediately known. But both appeared to be OK.

There was no immediate word of why they were missing nor what kind of ordeal they experienced during that time.

Brown walked into a ranger station, where he was being interviewed, and “that’s a good sign” about his health, Fullerton Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe told City News Service.

Avelar was found later by a ground-crew search team, Knabe said.

“He seems to be doing OK,” Knabe said.

“This is a huge weight off of our shoulders now,” the chief said. “It’s unbelievable. It puts everything in perspective.”

Before Avelar was found, the chief said, “The National Parks Service’s air ship spotted some equipment on the shoreline so they’re honing in their search of that area,” Knabe said.

It helped that the two have backpacked in the area several times before, Knabe said.

“They’re experienced backpackers, they’re in good shape, they’ve been here before and they know the area,” he said. “And they did everything right as far as making a plan, getting the right permits and letting the park service know.”

According to a missing persons flier distributed in Yosemite, the firefighters planned to start their backpacking trip in White Wolf and then go through Pleasant Valley over Rancheria Mountain to stay on the north side of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and then hike to the Smith Meadow trail. They were supposed to emerge from White Wolf on Sunday.

—Staff and wire reports

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