Two lost hikers who survived three nights in the frigid San Jacinto Mountains said they stumbled upon the campsite of a man who vanished a year ago and were able to scavenge food, clothes and matches from his backpack.
Brandon Day and Gina Allen were rescued Tuesday after searchers spotted smoke from a fire the Dallas couple had started.
As Day thanked their rescuers later Tuesday, he said he and Allen were also grateful to the backpack’s owner, John Donovan, a retired Virginia social worker who disappeared during a hike in May 2005.
“I want to thank him for helping save our lives,” Day said.
Papers in the orange backpack connected it to Donovan, and searchers planned to scour the area this week for the missing man’s remains, Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Earl Quinata said.
“Even in his death, he was helping people,” Donovan’s longtime friend, Chris Hook, said from Richmond, Va.
Donovan, an experienced hiker, was last seen in the San Jacinto Wilderness on May 3, 2005, about two weeks after he retired from Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va. The 60-year-old planned to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, from Southern California to the Canadian border.
Hook said he assumed his friend got hurt and froze to death in a snowstorm that blew on the last night he was seen alive.
Day, 28, and Allen, 24, were in Southern California for a financial convention. They got lost west of Palm Springs when they wandered off a trail near the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway during what was supposed to be a day hike.
They said they spent Saturday night in a cave, dressed only in light clothing and without any supplies, then followed a creek Sunday and Monday that they hoped would lead them down the mountain to safety. The creek led to a gorge, where they found Donovan’s campsite.
Searchers in a Riverside County sheriff’s helicopter spotted them Tuesday about 2½ miles from the tramway. The two were treated at a hospital for dehydration, bumps and bruises.