One of two Southern California teens lost for several days in a rugged mountain wilderness was released Sunday from a hospital after being treated for dehydration and minor injuries, and recounted his struggles with fear and hallucinations before his eventual rescue.
Nicolas Cendoya told reporters at a brief news conference outside Orange County's Mission Hospital that he knew from the first night he and classmate Kyndall Jack got lost during what was supposed to be a short Easter day hike that death was a strong possibility.
As the night grew dark in the Cleveland National Forest on March 31 and the pair called 911 on a dying cell phone, Cendoya said he told Jack "If we don't get out of here, we're going to die."
But Cendoya said he never gave up hope that he would be rescued, and as he wandered in chest-high brush reflected on what he considered recent selfish behaviors, like focusing too much on himself and not enough on his family.
"I didn't cry. I didn't fear it. I just embraced everything. I said `This is what I deserve,"' Cendoya said. "I just knew I would get through it. I knew this wasn't my time to die. I knew that I needed this, to become the person that I'm supposed to be."
As the days passed without food or water, Cendoya grew so weak he said he began having "lucid dreams, lucid hallucinations, every single day."
He said he felt the presence of God and of his best friend who died last year. He began struggling to tell the difference between sleep and waking, and eventually between life and death.
"I honestly felt that I was in the afterlife," Cendoya said.
He was airlifted to the hospital in serious but stable condition.
Jack was discovered Thursday clinging to a rocky outcropping no bigger than a yoga mat on a near-vertical slope. She was being treated at University of California, Irvine Medical Center for dehydration and hypothermia.
The two got lost after wandering off Holy Jim Trail, a popular path in the Cleveland National Forest, where the dangers of 720 square miles of rugged mountain wilderness run up against the planned communities and shopping malls of suburban southeast Orange County.