Dozens of rescuers are scouring Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California amid intense heat for two hikers, who were reported missing on Friday.
Rachel Nguyen, 20, of Westminster, Calif., and Joseph Orbeso, 21, of Lakewood, Calif., set out for a hike on Thursday, said Joshua Tree National Park Public Information Officer George Land. The mercury there hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit that day.
When the couple hadn't returned by the next day, the owner of the Airbnb where they were staying grew concerned and called police. Rangers found the hikers' car at a parking lot at the head of a popular trail called Maze Loop on Friday. A "ping" of Orbeso's cell phone was recorded from inside the park on Thursday, said Land.
Rescuers thought they spotted tracks near the vehicle heading north into a canyon, and while dogs seemed to pick up on a scent, they were unable to find anything, according to a statement by Joshua Tree National Park Search & Rescue, a volunteer group.
Two airplanes, two helicopters, six canine tracking teams and up to 100 ground searchers are all being used to try to locate the couple. Already they have covered "thousands of miles," said Land.
On Monday several rescuers were themselves overcome by the heat. One rescuer as well as canine units had to be airlifted out of the park, said Joshua Tree National Park Search & Rescue.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is assisting with the search. Public Information Officer Jodi Miller said they had to pull their searchers out of the field by noon Tuesday due to the extreme heat.
She said they expect to return to the field Wednesday at least in the morning when it is cooler.
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Emergency Management team tweeted Tuesday, "Over 50 dedicated searchers from 3 counties and the US Border Patrol brave 110 deg temps to continue the search."
Land told KPCC Wednesday that the week's lightning, thunderstorms and wind were hindering the search. The rescuers' tracking dogs don't fare well in high temperatures, so they are only able to use canine teams in the early morning hours.
"We're still hoping for the best but there's a very distinct possibility that it'll be a recovery issue," Land said. "So while we're still maintaining hope we're trying not to give any false hope out there as well."
Triple-digit temperatures are common in Joshua Tree National Park during this time of year. Land said it is essential for hikers to take special precautions, like starting out early when it is cooler, taking more water than one thinks is necessary (Land says a gallon per person per day is a good measure) and letting somebody know exactly where one plans to hike.
"You make a contract with nature when you come into the park, or into the desert in general," Land said. "There are certain things you have to prepare for."
Land says it is rare for hikers to succumb to the heat in the park, which is 800,000 acres of desert visited by more than 2 million people a year, but it does happen.
Last August, a 56-year-old female hiker died after suffering from heat-related symptoms on a 100-degree day.
Meantime, highs on Wednesday are once again expected to hit the triple digits, as the search for Nguyen and Orbeso goes on.
"We are continuing the search until at least the end of the week," said Land.