What started out as an exciting camping trip in the beautiful Mendicino National Forest turned into a near-death experience for a lucky-to-be-alive California couple.
18-year-old Maia Herman-Kitami and 21-year-old boyfriend Carlos Hernandez were looking forward last Wednesday to their snow-camping adventure in the forest, and after an enjoyable first night in the wilderness, the emboldened couple decided to venture deeper into the forest.
Following a snow-covered trail in their yellow Jeep Wrangler, they were soon dismayed to discover that they could go no further.
"As we reversed, the car got stuck," said Maia.
“Maia said they spent seven hours trying to dig their jeep out of the snow-- that was Thursday. They had no cell service and weren't expected home in San Francisco until Friday night.
“That's when the storm blew in and left them completely disabled.”
Thank goodness that, although this was Maia’s first trip to the snow, she was an experienced camper. That means she had all the provisions necessary to see them through most any emergency.
“She rationed their food and posted a sign at the trailhead notifying anybody passing by that they were stuck ahead on the trail. They also had plenty of gas to keep the engine and heat running in the Jeep.”
There was no cell phone service in the area, so they knew they had to rely upon their wits, the kindness of strangers, and a whole lot of luck if they were ever going to make it out alive.
“It didn't take long for the couple to realize they were in big trouble. They started rationing food and stayed inside the vehicle as the temperatures dipped below freezing. The forecast was for over a foot of snow over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.”
First, one day passed, then another, and another. When the couple had not returned home as planned by Friday, February first, their families gave them one more night to show up. When that didn't happen, the worried parents contacted the police on Saturday morning to report them missing.
Back at the jeep, the couple was starting to lose hope. Then the weekend passed, and no one had found them, Maia and Carlos realized they were in big trouble. Then on Monday, they began to get desperate. The night would soon be falling and another snowstorm was forecast for Tuesday morning.
"When it was 4 o'clock and nobody was coming, I started getting kind of emotional and I was just like, 'I want to go home,'" Herman-Kitami told KGO.
And thanks to a couple of complete strangers, Maia’s wish was granted. But not before the pair spent a total of five harrowing days huddled together in their jeep.
“Jason Logan and his father-in-law Ron Lovell volunteered to look for the couple. Logan searched for them using his snowmobile but almost gave up after talking to another volunteer group.”
But something inside of him urged him to go a little bit further. And that decision made all the difference in the world for Maia and Carlos. On Monday morning, everything changed.
“I heard this motor that was different,” Herman-Kitami said. “I was like this is nothing like we’ve heard before. I pop my head up and I see this guy in a snowmobile and a full red suit and I was like, 'Holy crap.'”
The ecstatic duo began honking their horn to guide the rescuers to them. Once the two men got close enough, Maia and Carlos hopped out of the jeep and went to greet them.
And it turns out, the rescue came just in the nick of time. Another heavy snowstorm was forecast for the next day and if they had still been trapped, it’s unlikely they would have made it out alive.
"With the weather we had this morning, I'm fairly convinced the Jeep would have been buried by [Tuesday] morning," said Logan.
After their miraculous rescue, the couple went to the media to praise those who went out of their way for them - especially Logan and Lovell. An incredible sacrifice for two people who were complete strangers to them.
“If the community didn’t come together like they did for us, we may have not been found until Thursday," he said. "The scary part was if we stay there and the car would have been covered we would have lost our lives."
Please join us in a prayer of thanksgiving for the lives of these two young people. Nothing is impossible with prayer.