It could happen to you: lost attendees

You may have read about the two people who wandered off during a hike in the San Jacinto mountains of Southern California and survived their three-night ordeal after finding the backpack of John Donovan, another lost hiker who has never been found, one year to the day that he went missing (Here's the MSNBC story.) What the news stories glossed over, however, was that they were attending a meeting at the time they went missing. Here's the unofficial story from someone on the meeting planning team of that conference.

The meeting organizer hired a DMC, and made sure everyone going on the hike signed a disclaimer. On Saturday, the guide went up with 43 people, and 41 out of 43 people showed up to take the tram back in the afternoon. The group waited about 45 minutes for the stragglers, then headed back. Neither the guide nor the other 41 people in the group said anything about two people being missing. That night, a gift was delivered to each of the missing hikers' rooms. When housekeeping came through the next morning, they checked the room out without noting that luggage was still in the rooms, along with the gifts.

I'm not sure what finally tripped the alarm, but on Monday morning the meeting organizer met with deputies and the Palm Springs Sheriff’s department, and within an hour they were up on the mountain. A helicopter spotted the fire the lost hikers had lit with matches from Donovan's backpack. Apparently, they thought they heard a waterfall, and in seeking it wandered off the path and into a ravine with a drop-off into a gulley. They stumbled into an abandoned camp and there found the lifesaving backpack.

Lesson learned? Ask for the tour sheets. Don’t assume the DMC or tour guide will tell you if the beginning and end tallies don't match up. Question everything, even if you think you don’t have a question to ask.

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