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Lukas McClish Rescued in the Santa Cruz Mountains After Multi-Agency Day Search

By Mary Andersen

What started as a short three hour hike exploring a route to a worksite turned into a 10 day ordeal for Lukas McClish. A 34-year-old lifelong resident of Boulder Creek, Lukas was rescued on June 20 after being lost in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Last sighted in Boulder Creek on the 11th, the McClish family reported him missing after he failed to return home for a Father’s Day gathering. Lukas’s dad, retired Boulder Creek Fire Chief Kevin McClish said, “I filed a missing persons report, then we just focused on following up on leads and tips and meeting with people. Diane and I, every day we hiked somewhere, we’d take the dog and go search a place we thought he might be. ”

Sightings and tips were plentiful, but inaccurate. Diane McClish, Lukas’s mom said, “We’re not big social media people, it’s not our thing, and there was not time to keep up with all that. But people would sincerely call to say they saw him so we’d go and follow that lead and they were well-intentioned, but they were all wrong. We just wanted to find him so we would follow up. We were out searching for 5, 6 hours every day, which was better than sitting waiting. But we had to have something to do every day to keep our minds off.”

Search and Rescue

A search and rescue operation involving a combination of ground crews, and state and local authorities began soon after Lukas was reported missing. However, the challenging terrain and dense vegetation of the Santa Cruz Mountains presented difficulties for search teams.

A multi-team rescue effort was deployed to locate Lukas McClish. (Credit: SLV Steve)

On June 19th, a resident in Bonny Doon’s ridgetop Braemoor neighborhood recorded and reported calls for help from the Foreman Creek SLV Water District watershed area in the canyon below. Emergency responders from State Parks, the Sheriff’s Office, and Boulder Creek Fire personnel were able to locate Lukas, whose location was pinpointed by a K9 officer with a dog near the reported area. Off-road and emergency vehicles followed. Kevin said, “Boulder Creek Fire Chief Mark Bingham called us after the rescue had begun, and they found somebody on a hill with no visual at the time, but he felt confident.” Describing that situation later, Lukas said, “I had been sitting on a ridge all day because I was tired of my adventure and I didn’t want to leave my water source. I didn’t realize how close I was to civilization or a neighborhood house to realistically make it to because I didn’t want to risk it.”

Bonny Doon resident’s recording of Lukas McClish yelling for help on June 19. (Contributed by Kevin McClish)

State Parks and Sheriff’s Department staff convene on the deck of a Bonny Doon resident who heard Lukas McClish calling for help. (Photo contributed by Kevin McClish)

Former fire chief Kevin McClish reunited with his son Lukas after a lengthy search

Lukas was found in good condition but needed assistance to get out of the remote canyon. He was reunited with his family after the rescue. On seeing his son, Kevin said that his first thoughts were, “Relief that he was alive. And found.”

A rescue team looks on as Lukas McClish is reunited with his mom Diane McClish (r) and family friend Kelly Todd (l). Diane said that her thought at that moment was, “I was just so happy that he was found. I couldn’t believe it.” (Credit: SLV Steve)

Survival

Lukas’s knowledge of wilderness survival served him well. Diane said, “He’s an avid hiker and backpacker. He loves that stuff.” And he was fortunate to be in an area of abundant water and wild berries.

At night he built a shelter under a stump with forest floor debris. He said, “There weren’t many noises. A mountain lion followed me and black hummingbirds, but I was in the burn scar and was really surprised that I saw no deer, no squirrels, no bluejays. One thing that made my journey very difficult is that in the burn zone, you can’t get your bearings, there are no fire roads, no game trails, no points to mark, you don’t see groves of trees to note your spot. I pretty much stayed calm until the last couple of days until actual hunger set in. About 4 or 5 days in I knew I was missing something and I couldn’t figure out what it was. It was Father’s Day. It’s not uncommon for me to go out there, but I wasn’t planning on 10 days.”

A drone team began a new search after receiving the video posted above.

The day he was rescued Lukas sat and watched air traffic. He became discouraged as it began getting dark. “Then all of a sudden I saw a dog and a ranger and I was so thankful. He gave me water and a hug, and then I saw my dad,” he said.

When asked how the hike initially unfolded, Lukas said, “I was planning on trying a new trail to Brookdale where I had been doing landscaping work. A friend had showed me a map and a trail entrance. So I thought I’d walk to work that way that day. I started exploring, enjoying the land. I was feeling like I was not too far away but it turns out it was further away than I thought. I left with pants, boots, hat, no lighter or pocket knife. Now I know. But I just thought I was going on a quick little trail to my boss’s house.”

Lukas said, “I backpack and am pretty competent in my survival abilities, but going out with nothing is very out of character for me. I just thought it would be three hours to work. Around the 5th day I told myself I gotta get to town to get a burrito, then it got dark and cold again.“

Responding to the outpouring of public concern and support, Lukas said, “It’s been amazing to watch the community response. It brought hope that there are still decent people out there.”

Recovering at Home

After hiking out they got Lukas into an ambulance, and he has been recovering at home. “He’s lost 30 pounds so he has weight to gain back,” Diane said, “but he’s definitely eating a lot now.”

The family has expressed gratitude for everyone involved in the search and rescue efforts. Lukas said, “I’m thankful for all the people who put up flyers and signs and helped my parents.” Diane said, “The people, the community, we didn’t realize how much Lukas was loved here.”

Mary Andersen is a writer and photographer. She documents politics and culture and enjoys writing about the people and happenings of the Santa Cruz Mountains. mary@slvpost.com

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