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Ojai – Rescued Hikers from Los Padres National Forest

Nature of Incident: Overdue Hikers Rescued from Flooded Sespe River Trail

Incident Number: 19-18011

Location: Los Padres National Forest – Sespe River Trail

Date: 02/02/19

Unit(s) Responsible: Lockwood Valley Deputies & VCSO Air Unit

(S)uspects, (V)ictims, (P)arty, (D)ecedent             City of Residence        Age
(P) Mark Melleka                                                          Granada Hills, CA      21
(P) Greg Gatewood                                                       Granada Hills, CA      22
(P) Justin Kang                                                             Granada Hills, CA       21

Narrative: On Thursday 01/31/19, three friends went on a backpacking trip in the Los Padres National Forest. The hikers intended to go from the Piedra Blanca Trailhead in Rose Valley to the Willett Hot Springs and hike back out by Saturday evening 02/02/19. On Saturday evening when the hikers had not checked in with their families, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office received a call for the overdue hikers.
Two resident deputies from Lockwood Valley responded to the trailhead battling heavy mixed rain and snow conditions, debris filled creek crossings, and Highway 33 which was closed due to the dangerous road conditions from ice, rocks, and mud in the roadway.
Upon arrival, the deputies located the overdue hiker’s vehicle at the trailhead indicating the hikers were in fact out on the trail – somewhere.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Air Unit responded utilizing Copter 9. The pilot and crew chiefs were wearing night vision goggles to safely fly in nighttime conditions and locate the overdue hikers.
While Copter 9 was enroute, the Lockwood Deputies located the three overdue hikers about one mile east of the trailhead. The hikers were stranded on the north side of the raging Sespe River and the deputies were unable to safely access their location. Copter 9 quickly arrived on scene and was directed to the lost hikers by the deputies on the ground. Copter 9 located the hikers, landed the airship near the river, and sent crew members to rescue and medically evaluate the hikers. Air squad members reported the hikers were wet and cold. Due to limited space on the helicopter, two of the crew chiefs gave up their seats and remained by the river in the inclement weather so that all three hikers could fly out together. At the time of the rescue, the temperature was 37 degrees with colder conditions and heavy rain and snow expected in the area.
Copter 9 transported the hikers back to the trailhead. The first hiker to step out of the helicopter was wearing wet clothes and was barefoot. The second was wearing boxers only. The third was also wearing completely soaked clothing. All three subjects were medically evaluated and offered warm clothing, food, and water. After warming up, the hikers did not need any additional medical attention and drove home.
When preparing for outdoor recreational activities, it is imperative to be familiar with current and forecasted weather conditions and how those conditions will affect the area you will be in (i.e. flooding). One of the things these hikers did well was to share their hiking plan with family or friends. If they had not shared their specific plans this story could have ended much differently. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office cannot emphasize enough the importance of proper planning for your outdoor recreation for the safety of all, including our first responders.

Prepared by: Deputy Sam Moss
News Release Date: 02/03/19
Media Follow-Up Contact: Deputy Sam Moss (661) 245-3829
Approved by: Captain J. Fryhoff