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California hiker still missing after companion found dazed, dehydrated

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rescue teams scoured a California mountain canyon on Thursday for a college student missing since Sunday as police questioned her hiking companion, who was found dazed and dehydrated three days after the pair reported themselves lost, authorities said.

Nicholas Cendoya, 19, was found Wednesday evening, conscious but "highly disoriented," in a ravine about a half milefrom where he and 18-year-old Kyndall Jack had parked their car in the Cleveland National Forest, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, a spokeswoman for the Orange County sheriff said.

"The first priority was getting him medical attention because he was severely dehydrated, and then investigators were going to interview him," the spokeswoman, Gail Krause, told Reuters.

Both Cendoya and Jack, who family and friends described as friends, were said to be athletic and in good health but were inexperienced as hikers in Southern California's backcountry, Krause said.

The pair set out on Sunday for a hike through the Holy Jim Canyon, an area characterized by rugged terrain, dense brush and waterfalls, but they called authorities on a cellphone after dark to say they were lost, she said.

The cellphone's batteries went dead before authorities could get an accurate fix on its signal to pinpoint the pair's precise location, Krause said.

Hikers found Cendoya, a student at Orange Coast College, lying in a ravine and alerted authorities, and it took about an hour to extricate him from the canyon via helicopter.

It was not clear how Cendoya and Jack, enrolled at California State University at Fullerton, had become separated.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Jack's father, Russ Jack, as saying that Cendoya had told authorities that his companion apparently had twisted her ankle and "could not keep up with Nicholas trying to get out of the brush."

Russ Jack also told the Times that Cendoya had said he had not seen Kyndall for a day and believed she already had been rescued.

Krause said she could not comment on remarks by family members or on any statements Cendoya made after he was found.

She said investigators were not treating the circumstances under which the pair went missing as suspicious and do not consider Cendoya a suspect in the disappearance of his companion "at this time."

Search operations for Jack resumed in earnest at about 7 a.m. on Thursday, with about 40 rescue workers, some on horseback, concentrating in the vicinity of where Cendoya was found, Krause said. She said helicopters would rejoin in the search once low clouds over the area dissipated.

Mild weather conditions, with overnight lows dipping into the low-50s Fahrenheit (about 10 Celsius), and relatively cool daytime temperatures, bode well for survival in the area, she added.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Beech)

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