Fifteen young Adventists who camped overnight in a remote California canyon after getting lost during a weekend hike were praising God following their rescue by helicopter.
The search-and-rescue operation has grabbed media headlines across the U.S., and many news reports cite the hikers and their relatives as crediting God for the happy outcome.
The hikers, aged 14 to 36 and members of the Seventh-day Adventist Spanish Church of Huntington Park, emerged relatively unscathed, with two being treated for hypothermia after spending the night in wet clothes and a young woman suffering a minor foot injury when wind from helicopter blades flung a rock at her.
The church group traveled to Eaton Canyon, located in the San Gabriel Mountains about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from Los Angeles, on Sunday for a day of hiking and rappelling waterfalls. But they grew tired and disoriented by evening.
"We were wet, we were tired, but we just decided that the best thing we could do is just stay there and rest," one of the hikers, Nancy Picado, 22, told reporters, CBS television news reported. "We built a fire to keep ourselves warm. Nothing happened to us, thank God. God was always with us, and we're good."
"THANK GOD": Hiker Nancy Picado praises God as she recounts the ordeal in footage shown on CBS television.
Cell phone coverage was minimal in the area characterized by rough terrain and deep ravines. But several members of the group managed to text the single word “help” to relatives and 911 emergency services by 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
A thick fog hung over the mountains, limiting visibility and making it impossible to rely on helicopters to search. So the authorities dispatched several search crews by foot. The searchers found several relatives of the missing hikers wandering in the mountains.
As the fog began to lift in the morning, two helicopters joined the search and located the missing hikers around 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Anajancy Armenta, whose sister and brother-in-law were part of the group, acknowledged that she had been worried but said her faith in God had not wavered.
"It was heartbreaking to not know what had happened to them, but something that we all have is faith in God and that he has the power to do great things, so we started praying for them and we put our faith in him," Armenta said in remarks carried by Southern California Public Radio.
Rescues are relatively common in Eaton Canyon, but the size and circumstances of the Adventist group make the latest incident unusual, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The rescued hikers are already thinking about how else they can share God through the experience. One of them is planning an Adventist Youth meeting that may include a presentation and a skit about the experience, said Betty Cooney, communication director for the Adventist Church’s Southern California Conference.
“They had amazing resilience and faith in God, singing, praying and sharing Bible promises throughout their chilly sleepless night on the rocks,” Cooney said.