On 03/20/2011, at about 4:45 PM, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office began receiving calls of overdue hikers in the Ventura County backcountry. It was quickly determined that many of these missing individuals were all associated with a professional hiking group - the “Los Padres Sierra Club.” The reporting parties said the club members had not returned from an overnight camping trip in the Los Padres National Forest. The number of missing club members was believed to be around 20 to 30 members.
As the information developed further, it was learned that this group of hikers set out into the forest on Saturday morning, 03/19/2011, in the face of the on-coming storm. The club then split into three separate groups, with each group being led by a Sierra Club “team leader” and each group hiking in a different area of the forest. The information as to exactly where these three groups planned to hike was limited. According to the reporting parties, their plan was to spend the night in the mountains and then hike out Sunday morning.
Through interviews with concerned family members, it was determined the three groups were likely in or around the Middle Matillija, Middle Lions Camp, and Potrero John areas of the Los Padres National Forest. All three of these areas can be accessed off of Hwy 33, above the City of Ojai. Sheriff’s personnel were also able to obtain vehicle information from the reporting parties, so Search and Rescue (SAR) resources were immediately deployed to the above-mentioned areas to try and locate the missing vehicles at the various campgrounds and/or trailheads that dot the area. A Sheriff’s helicopter was also dispatched to assist with the search, however the helicopter was unable to access the mountain areas due to the high winds, rain and poor visibility generated from the powerful storm system.
The Upper Ojai Mountain Rescue Team was able to locate several vehicles believed to belong to the Sierra Club hiking parties in the areas of Lion’s Camp and Potrero John. The SAR Team checked the immediate area around these locations, however they were unable to hike down the trails due to swollen and treacherous water crossings that had developed due to the heavy rains and large amount of storm run off. As a result, and due to safety concerns, the decision was made to suspend further rescue operations until the next morning.
As the Ojai SAR Team was leaving the area, the SAR Team Captain (Bill Slaughter) noticed some lights coming from a ridge top. The area where the lights were coming from was on top of a steep cliff. Believing the lights to be associated with some of the missing Sierra Club hikers, a ground based search and rescue operation was immediately initiated. Members of the East Valley Mountain Rescue Team responded to assist the Ojai SAR Team with the rescue. SAR members were given assignments to try and access the area on foot. At about 11:00 PM, SAR members made contact with (4) four of the missing Sierra Club members – all of whom were in a very precarious situation. The four members explained that they had experienced heavy rains all night on Saturday night, so they set out first thing Sunday morning to try and make it out of the backcountry. As they tried to hike out, the four individuals found that they were no longer able to cross the water crossings, so they abandoned their tents and backpacks and attempted to scale a ridgeline to make it to Hwy 33. They soon became very tired and very cold.
The Ojai and East Valley SAR Teams had to rig safety lines across the water crossings, as well as a waterfall, and then secure each individual in a harness system in order to pull them safely across the dangerous water and steep terrain. All four Sierra Club members were suffering from exposure to the cold and were subsequently transported by ambulance to a local hospital. During the rescue efforts, one SAR member received minor injuries that required later treatment at a local Urgent Care facility. The rescue efforts to locate the remaining members of the Sierra Club were suspended to the following morning.
On Monday morning, 03/21/2011, the Sheriff’s helicopter launched at 6:45 AM, in hopes of locating the remaining members of the Sierra Club. A second group of Sierra Club members were found in the Middle Lions Camp area. These individuals were also unable to cross the water crossings that had swollen to dangerous levels due to the storm. The helicopter crew was able to land and load (9) nine individuals onto the helicopter, and then flew them out of danger and back to their cars. No injuries were reported in this second group. The Sheriff’s Helicopter then located the last group of Sierra Club members in the area of Middle Matillija. This group was also trapped by the swollen water crossings. The helicopter crew was not able to land, therefore 100 ft. hoist rescues had to be performed on each one of these (6) six individuals. The Sheriff’s Aviation Unit was then able to determine that all of the missing Sierra Club
members were accounted for.
In total, (19) nineteen Sierra Club members were rescued, requiring over 239 manhours and 3.6 helicopter hours. The rescued Sierra Club members are as follows:
Name, Age, City of Residence
Teresa Norris 56 Fillmore
Eileen Crump 53 Fillmore
Annette Klaus 55 Ventura
Panuakdet Suwannatat 28 Goleta
Pam Rochell 49 Santa Barbara
Irene Rauschember 60 Oxnard
Marc Hertz 65 Van Nuys
Todd Glasspoole 32 Ventura
Lenore Carletom 56 Ventura
Suzanne Tanaka 56 Ventura
Cara Peden 30 Ventura
Steve George 49 Ventura
Barbara Poitras 58 Ventura
Catherine Rossbach 62 Ventura
Alisse Fisher 51 Oxnard
Karen Vokmer 44 Ventura
Hannah Somers 22 Oxnard
Derek Brumfield 34 Goleta
Glenn Newton 51 Moorpark
In addition to the rescue of the Sierra Club, on Monday morning, 03/21/2011, the Sheriff’s Aviation Unit responded to the Willet Hot Springs area of the Los Padres Forest on two separate reports of additional missing hikers – one group of five men out of Orange County was reported missing, as well as another group of two men and a dog out of the City of Ojai. The Sheriff’s helicopter responded to the location and discovered the missing groups and performed the rescues without incident.
As storms move through our area, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Aviation-Search and Rescue Unit would once again like to remind all residents of the dangers that accompany this type of weather.
- Please refrain from entering the backcountry until after the storms have long
- As the local mountains and hillsides reach their saturation points, the chances for
flash floods, mudslides, and large amounts of storm run-off in the local drainage
channels increases dramatically.
- Always notify a friend or loved one of your plans and location when entering the
wilderness. If you deviate from your hiking plan, be advised that if no one knows
where you are it is going to seriously delay emergency response in the event you
- Do not attempt to cross moving water - either on foot or in vehicles. Normally
shallow water crossings become very hazardous during heavy rains as the water
flows increase suddenly and without warning.
- The increased water flows in the local drainage channels can be very attractive
and luring to children and young adults. A simple slip and fall into this fast
moving water often proves to be fatal, even to the best of swimmers. Please
ensure that your children are admonished on the dangers of the fast moving
water and told not enter any of these areas.
- Increased surf activity at the local beaches is another hazard that draws people
to the shoreline to view the large waves and heavy surf. Please do not enter the
water or venture out onto the jetties or rocks along the local beaches. Large
waves are unpredictable and past incidents have taught us that getting washed
into the heavy surf often proves to be fatal, even to the best of swimmers.
- Please report any dangerous activity on or around waterways and beaches over
the upcoming days. Prevention and early detection is key to avoiding tragedies