A 64-year-old California man missing in the rugged, canyon-riddled backcountry of Joshua Tree National Park since Friday was found Thursday in surprisingly good condition for someone who probably went several days in the desert without food or water.
Edward Rosenthal, who got lost Friday evening when he took a wrong turn on a loop trail near the southern California park's Black Rock Campground, was spotted by a helicopter crew about 10:30 a.m., according to Joe Zarki, the park's chief of interpretation.
"Apparently they flew over him close enough that he was able to wave to them, attract their attention," the ranger said during a telephone call.
The helicopter was able to land nearby, bring Mr. Rosenthal on board, and fly directly to a hospital in the town of Joshua Tree.
"He’s been reunited with his family, he’s talking, he’s doing reasonably well," said Chief Zarki, adding that the plan was to keep the man in the hospital overnight as a precaution.
The happy outcome was decidedly different from another search for a missing hiker back in June. Teams spent a week looking for William Ewasko, a 65-year-old Marietta, Georgia, man lost in the Quail Mountain area of the park. The search was suspended on the seventh day, and to this date Mr. Ewasko's remains have not been found.
The difference in the outcomes, said Chief Zarki, was that in the latest search-and-rescue operation personnel found Mr. Rosenthal's footprints leading away from the loop trail.
“We didn’t have anywhere near as good a clue as to where that person was," he said, referring to Mr. Ewasko. "We had a good trail to follow coming off the loop trail where (Mr. Rosenthal) made a wrong turn.
“There was a fairly high degree of confidence from Wednesday morning on that we knew about where he was," said Chief Zarki. "The one in June, we never had a clear idea where that gentleman was."
In the latest search, which got under way Sunday when park officials were notified that Mr. Rosenthal had failed to return from a day hike, grew to include roughly two dozen ground personnel, two fixed-wing aircraft, and one helicopter.
“He just made a wrong turn somewhere. He was hiking on a loop trail. Somehow he got off," said the park ranger. "Unfortunately, the area he got off on was a very steep, gorge-like area. He couldn’t get out, just kept going downhill.”
While the spot where Mr. Rosenthal was found was probably 7-8 miles in a straight line, in terms of "canyon miles" from the loop trail, he probably walked twice that distance, said Chief Zarki.
“There’s a maze of canyons once you get off that loop trail.”
Mr. Rosenthal's wife told rangers that he had some food and water with him. "That lasted a day-and-a-half, so maybe since Sunday he’s been out there without food and water," said Chief Zarki. "He got a break because we had some cloudy weather that kept the temperatures down.”
While Los Angeles has been baking in a heat wave that has pushed temperatures there to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, in Joshua Tree the daily high temperatures were probably 15 or 20 degrees cooler, the ranger said. "So that helped him I'm sure."
Weighed against the park's unresolved search in June, the missing plane in Katmai National Park and Preserve, and the death of a hiker in Grand Canyon National Park this week, news of a successful SAR couldn't have come sooner.
“This is the outcome you hope for," said Chief Zarki.