As the search for the missing friends stretched on, friends and family held out hope the pair would be miraculously found alive within sweltering Joshua Tree National Park.
“I haven’t been able to sleep knowing my best friend in the world is out there,” Austin Young, 23, who lives in Lakewood, said on Tuesday. “I am praying to God he is alive.”
On Thursday, Joseph Orbeso, a 21-year-old from Lakewood, and Rachel Nguyen, a 20-year-old from Westminster, left a bed and breakfast to go hiking, said George Land, a spokesman for Joshua Tree National Park.
Authorities were alerted when the inn’s operator determined that Nguyen and Orbeso hadn’t checked out mid-morning Friday and found clothing, an iPad, and food in a refrigerator in their room.
Their car was near the Maze Loop, in the northwest area of the park, and fresh footprints were discovered leading away from the vehicle.
“The way the tracks were picked up indicate these people could be walking in circles, which is not uncommon when people are lost,” Land said.
The disappearance has sparked the largest search at Joshua Tree National Park since September 2010 when Edward Rosenthal, 64, of Culver City was found alive after going missing for six days.
On Saturday and Sunday, as many as 100 searchers scoured the park for Nguyen and Orbeso amid triple-digit temperatures. The large-scale effort continued Monday with air support from the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Border Patrol.
Because of thunderstorms, the search was scaled back Tuesday morning to about 25 on the ground. “We did have K-9 units in field, but with the winds swirling around it wasn’t very effective,” Land said.
Authorities believe that Nguyen and Orbeso weren’t experienced hiking in Joshua Tree, which stretches across 790,000 acres, a region slightly larger than Rhode Island.
“They weren’t desert rats,” Land said. “This is a whole different world out here.”
Orbeso, who attended Lakewood High School, took Nguyen to Joshua Tree National Park to celebrate her birthday, said Young, adding the pair had dated but most recently were friends. Orbeso, a security guard at a Long Beach golf course, loves the outdoors.
“He’s in very good shape, always carries knives when hiking and is a survivalist,” Young said. “He is also the most respectful, honest, and straight-forward person you will ever meet.”
The search for Nguyen and…