After recovering from three days lost in the rugged terrain of Cleveland National Forest in Southern California, 19-year-old Nicholas Cendoya described his ordeal—hallucinations, no food, no water, in and out of consciousness, having suffered blunt force trauma, lost, losing hope, rescued.
Cendoya and Kyndall Jack, 18, went for a day hike on Sunday, March 31, in the Trabuco Canyon area of the Cleveland National Forest. They wanted to reach a peak, to touch the clouds, said Cendoya at a press conference on April 7. But at about 6:30 p.m. they hadn’t reached the top; they realized they had only a little water left; they had gone off track and lost their sense of direction; they started to worry.
“If we don’t get out of here, we’re going to die,” Cendoya told Jack at one point, he recalled. The last thing he could remember was the two of them walking down a slope together, he had called 9-1-1, then they somehow became separated.
They might have fallen in opposite directions, guessed Cendoya. From that point on, his memories are jumbled with hallucinations—tigers stalking him, helicopters and rescue workers lifting Jack to safety, visions of the after life.
Cendoya was found on April 3, and Jack was found a day later. Jack is still recovering in hospital, but Cendoya was released from Mission Hospital on April 7 and spoke at a press conference aired on CBS Los Angeles.
He was dehydrated, suffered from blunt force trauma, which a doctor said may explain his memory problems, and which also affected his lungs—air from inside his lung filled his chest cavity outside the lungs.
Cendoya accepts the ordeal as something meant to be: “I needed this to become the person I am supposed to be.”
“I knew it was for a reason,” he said.
The experience made him realize he has been selfish lately, focused on his appearance and going to the gym, but “It doesn’t matter, that’s not the stuff that matters anymore.”
Having hallucinated that Jack was already rescued, he was devastated to learn she was still out there when he had been found.
“We weren’t meant to die,” Cendoya said. He said he was rescued just when he was ready to give up, when he had lost hope.
“Kyndall was meant to be found at that time because she was spent. I was meant to be found at that time because I was spent,” he said.
Kyndall sent Cendoya a message on Facebook, telling him, “All I think about is you, it’s hard to make sense of it all.” Cendoya read the message at the press conference.
When she was found, she couldn’t remember being with Cendoya, she was also very disoriented. She said she later remembered him reassuring her, and telling her it would be okay.
The two had recently met, and it was their first time on an outing together. Jack was treated for dehydration and hypothermia.
Cendoya said he wants to return to the trail soon, this time with better planning, to see the terrain again and piece together his confused memories.