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Missing Snowboarder Found in Calif.

February 14, 1998

GLENDORA, Calif. (AP) _ A teen-age snowboarder missing for six days was found alive Friday afternoon in the snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains near the ski resort where he disappeared.

Jeff Thornton, 14, was awake, alert, and talking after being lifted off the mountain by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s helicopter and flown to a hospital in Glendora, said hospital spokeswoman Catherine Koetters.

``It’s the best Valentine’s Day ever.″ Bill Maness, Thornton’s stepfather, said in a telephone interview from his home in Brawley.

Thornton vanished Feb. 7 after becoming separated from his uncle as they were snowboarding near an off-limits area of the Mountain High ski resort at Wrightwood, about 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

The boy had frost bite on both arms, legs and hands as well as a blunt-force trauma to his left eye, said Dr. Gurjeet Kalkat, an intensive care surgeon. Thornton, who was in critical but stable condition, was expected to remain in the hospital for about a week, but he suffered no permanent injuries, the doctor said.

Veterans of searches in the rugged San Gabriels were astonished by his survival.

Randy Katai and Art Fortini, of the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, spotted Thornton from a distance of about 50 yards after finding footprints in the snow at the 6,500-foot-level and following their direction below the snow line.

Thornton, in a full snow suit, was beside a creek at an elevation of about 5,600 feet.

``My heart was beating like a horse when I first saw him,″ Katai said.

Rescue units had searched over the weekend for Thornton but were forced to curtail their efforts because of heavy snowfall.

``Other people pulled out but they (the Sierra Madre team) stuck with it throughout the week and came up with him,″ said Deputy Mark Bailey.

Deputy Keith Mitchell, a veteran member of the rescue helicopter crew, said there have been other cases of long-term survival in the cold, but not many.

``I was shocked,″ he said. ``He actually looked pretty good considering how long he had been down there and ever.″

Daytime temperatures in the mountains have stayed in the 30s all week, dropping to the upper 20s at night. The area received 39 inches of snowfall in the last seven days.

Maness said everyone in Brawley, a city of 20,000, about 20 miles north of the Mexican border, has been supportive.

``The whole town is just in joy,″ he said.

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