[Ventura County Sheriff’s Dept.] – Two lost hunters were located using the glow of a cell phone screen Saturday night in the wild area near Piru Creek.
At approximately 10 p.m., a helicopter was requested for two hunters – Leonard Unger, 49 and a 17-year old male, both of Los Angeles – who were lost and stranded on a rock out cropping in Piru Creek near Hardluck Campground in the Los Padres National Forest.
Initial information received from the hunters who had limited cellular service stated they were unable to move off a sheer cliff about one and one half miles south of the Hardluck Campground.
Ventura County Sheriff Lockwood Valley Deputies were staged at the campground but were unsuccessful in locating the hunters due to the remote location and darkness. The Sheriff’s Department helicopter, piloted by Jim Dalton, responded with a rescue crew consisting of Crew Chief Don White and Crew Chief/Paramedic Jeff Golden. Upon arrival to the area, an aerial search was initiated with the assistance of night vision goggles worn by the aircrew.
After about 45 minutes into the search, the hunters regained cellular service and were able to contact Sheriff’s Dispatch. Utilizing a satellite telephone in the helicopter, a conference call was initiated between the helicopter, dispatch and hunters. The hunters were advised to hold the face of their cell phone in the direction of the helicopter, which they could hear but not see.
With the assistance of night vision goggles the rescue crew observed the light from the cell phone face within several minutes after the request was made. The hunters were discovered clinging to a steep canyon wall south of the campground.
Due to the remote location and rugged terrain, the only option to contact and evaluate the hunters was through a hoist operation. Crew Chief Golden was lowered via hoist approximately one hundred feet into the canyon. Once on the ground, Golden determined both men were uninjured. The hunters were safely removed from the location via a hoist rescue and flown to awaiting deputies at the Hardluck Campground.
It was later learned that the hunters were prepared for their trip by having proper clothing, water, flashlights, GPS and a cell phone. However once it became dark, the hunters were disorientated and quickly lost track of the trail. Both then fell down the steep canyon and became separated from their flashlights, GPS and other equipment.
The Sheriff’s Aviation Unit advises that if people find themselves in a remote location after dark, the illumination of a cell phone face or other light source can greatly assist rescue crews in the search when night vision goggles are being utilized.