Rescuers tracked down missing skiers near China Peak

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif.

A Fresno County Sheriff's helicopter spotted the 70-year-old man and 57-year-old woman Monday morning near Red Mountain, just east of China Peak Ski Resort.

The couple started their trip at the Tamarack Ski Park trailhead around 2:30 Sunday afternoon. What was supposed to be a two hour adventure, turned into a nearly 24 hour ordeal.

Employees at China Resort received a call Monday morning from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, asking them to help search and rescue crews locate a couple who had gone missing at a nearby cross country ski trail the night before.

Rich Bailey, China Peak Mountain Mgr. said, "They hadn't had anything to eat. No water. Just snow, which is not a good thing to be eating when you're getting hypothermic."

One thing the couple did have was a cell phone. While venturing out along the Red Mountain Jeep Trail, rescuers say the pair went too far and got lost. Before they knew it, it was dark.

To avoid getting hypothermia, the experienced cross-country skiers continued hiking until 7:30 Monday morning, when they finally reached an area with cell phone service.

Bailey said, "We coordinated with the sheriff's department, coordinated with the air unit and we were able to basically find them based on the latitude and longitude based on their cell phones."

Eliot Jones China Peak's Assistant Mountain Manager, was the first rescuer to reach the couple. He picked them up on his snowmobile, and brought to them to an awaiting helicopter.

Jones said, "When they first saw me, they looked pretty tired, but they were very relieved and in good spirits and happy help was there."

With a larger than normal snowpack, rescuers say this year's snow season won't be over until May first. They anticipate plenty more visitors before then. Which is why people should use Monday morning's rescue as a good reminder.

"One should be prepared, which would include having hydration, water food, emergency like a rescue or space blanket, possibly a lighter," said Bailey. "You know, just the ability. You never know what happens."

Despite being embarrassed, rescuers say the couple is in good health and resting at home.

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