Update 1:55 p.m.: Father, three children found alive in Sierra
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) ” Search teams struggling through deep snow drifts today rescued a father and his three children, who had been missing since they headed into the woods Sunday to hunt for a Christmas tree.
“They have found all four, and they appear to be OK,” said Paradise Police Sgt. Steve Rowe.
He said rescuers were airlifting the family out of the mountains and evaluating their condition.
Two of the children emerged from a rescue helicopter after being flown out of the mountains this afternoon. They stepped out of the chopper and were immediately enveloped in a cluster of well-wishers carrying heavy blankets.
The rescue teams had been racing time and the elements to find the four, as a powerful storm carrying even more snow was bearing down on the region.
Frederick Dominguez, 38, and his children ” Christopher, 18, Alexis, 14, and Joshua, 12 ” have been missing since Sunday in the region about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
“Our hearts are all full right now,” said Cory Stahl, who owns a pest control business where Dominguez works. “It’s a very merry Christmas now.”
Stahl closed his business so he and his employees could assist the search. He said all four suffered mild to moderate hypothermia but were otherwise fine. They were being taken to Feather River Hospital in Paradise, he said.
Dominguez’s pickup truck was found Monday night parked along a mountain road some 25 miles northeast of Chico.
More than a foot of snow had fallen in the area since the family disappeared, and wind-driven snow drifts ranged from 1 to 7 feet deep.
Details of the family’s rescue were not immediately available, but search teams had hoped they had found one of the many cabins or caves that dotted the heavily wooded and canyon-crossed area.
The family also appeared better equipped than rescuers initially thought. Earlier reports said the family went into the woods to cut a Christmas tree wearing T-shirts and light jackets, but the two youngest children emerged from the helicopter wearing heavy parkas.
Dominguez moved to the rural foothill town of Paradise about a year ago from Los Angeles to be closer to his children, who live with his ex-wife, Lisa Sams.
His co-workers said he is devoted to his children and takes them to church every Sunday, as he did this weekend before heading out in search of a Christmas tree.
“He lives for his family,” said Mairleen Grove, the pest company’s office manager.
“When he walks in the door, he makes everybody smile.”
Authorities believe Dominguez and the children went to church Sunday before leaving for the mountains.
He parked his Chevrolet pickup along a road near the mountain hamlet of Inskip on Sunday afternoon, then likely walked downhill into the woods with his children and became lost, Butte County Search and Rescue spokeswoman Madde Watt said.
“You could get turned around very quickly,” she said.
It was clear at the time and for hours after the family entered the woods. The first storm wave didn’t hit until Monday.
Because Dominguez had custody of his children at the time, his ex-wife did not know they were missing until she discovered that her youngest child failed to show up at school Monday. Authorities were alerted at 8 p.m. Monday and immediately began a search.
They quickly found the pickup, but at least 8 inches of snow was covering the ground, hurting efforts to track them.
The search effort expanded significantly this morning, as snow had stopped falling for the first time since the family went missing.
It intensified as another moisture-laden Pacific storm was heading toward California, expected to blanket most of the northern state with rain and snow by late this afternoon.
About 2 feet of snow is expected to fall tonight and Thursday morning in the area where the family had been missing, said Jared Leighton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sacramento.