SAN DIEGO — A hiker was rescued after getting stranded in the mountains of San Diego County for three days this month, sheltering in train tunnels and subsisting on what little water he could find.
Officials say the man was visiting from Italy and had intended to go on a day-long hike on Jan. 19. He headed out from a trailhead in the Jacumba Mountains of far East County, north of Boulevard by the U.S.-Mexico border, but never returned. His wife formally reported the man missing on Jan. 21 after not getting a response to her messages on WhatsApp, officials told FOX 5.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department sent some of its rural deputies, its helicopter unit ASTREA and a team of rescue volunteers to lead the search for the missing hiker.
On Jan. 22, the helicopter spotted the man near Carrizo Gorge, an area of the mountain range marked by trestle bridges and old rail tunnels. First responders were able to reach the man, who had only minor injuries, and fly him to safety. “Subject has been located, return to your drop-off points,” an official says over the radio in a video shared by the sheriff’s department.
The tourist told rescuers that he got lost and was forced to take shelter in the train tunnels. He stayed hydrated by drinking from small pools of water he found at the bottom of the gorge.
For hours between rests, the man would scramble to the top of a peak and scan the area for his car parked at the trailhead, but he was never able to find his way back. The man said the rocky hillsides all looked the same from his vantage point, and he wasn’t sure which direction to head.
Video from the rescue shows the man walking away from the sheriff’s helicopter under his own power and then getting interviewed by Cal Fire officials. A spokesperson wrote on Twitter that the man “is thankful to be alive.”