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Search terminated for missing hiker near Warner Springs

There may be a new lead in the search for a missing hiker north of Warner Springs.
Search terminated for missing hiker near Warner Springs
SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Sheriff search and rescue teams have called off the search for a missing hiker north of Warner Springs.

Chris Sylvia has been missing for the past two weeks from a solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) between Anza and Campo.

In an email Tuesday afternoon to CBS News 8, a spokesperson for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department confirmed the search has been terminated.

"It has been two weeks since he was last heard from and the weather has made a productive search impossible. This does not mean the investigation is over – we are still running any leads that come in to us," wrote Jan Caldwell, the sheriff's spokesperson.

On Sunday, Anza resident Mary Litch was hiking the PCT when she found a pair of hiking sandals and an empty package of freeze-dried stew near Tule Spring.

“One of the shoes had an empty package of beef stew that had been folded up and then tucked inside of one of the shoes,” Litch told CBS News 8.

Litch took a cell phone photograph of the items and emailed it to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

“I left the shoes where they were. I unfolded the package of food just so I could see what it was and I put that down next to the shoes and I took a photo,” Litch said.

The location of the sandals was about six miles north of the sheriff's search area in Chihuahua Valley.

Sylvia began his hike on the evening of February 12 from the intersection of the PCT and Highway 74 east of Anza. The 28-year-old has not heard from since February 16, when he telephoned a friend and said he wanted to be picked up.

The friend was supposed to meet Sylvia on February 17 at the Lieu Quan Meditation Center at 31130 Chihuahua Valley Road near Warner Springs. Sylvia never showed up and the friend called the sheriff's department about a week later.

Search teams found Sylvia's camping gear abandoned near the rendezvous point on Chihuahua Valley Road.

Sylvia is one of five children who was raised in Maryland. His mother, Nancy Sylvia, said her son moved to Vista recently to after he broke up with his girlfriend.

“He just went to clear his head. He just needed a break from here because he and his girlfriend broke up,” Nancy Sylvia said in a telephone interview.

“They were supposed to be engaged and it just broke his heart. He got a job. He was working at a restaurant,” she said.

Nancy Sylvia said her son was a fairly experienced hiker and she does not believe Chris was suicidal.

“He was just sad, maybe a little depressed. But when I spoke to him, he sounded good,” the mother recalled.

“I just don't understand why he left his gear behind,” she said. “I have never known him to go hiking by himself. He always had somebody with him.”

Mary Litch, the hiker who found the sandals on Sunday, told CBS News 8 the PCT is generally safe.

“Many people hike there alone. I hike there alone all the time. I consider it a very safe place to hike,” Litch said.

“I've come across mountain lions a couple of times and they've always been shy,” said Litch. “I generally have more concern about people than I do about wild animals.”

The sheriff's department would not discuss possible theories as to why Sylvia may have gone missing.

"As a matter of routine in any missing persons case, this will be referred to Homicide in the next several days," wrote Caldwell, the sheriff's spokesperson.  "They will continue the investigation our Rural Detective has initiated and explore all possibilities."

(Note: This report has been updated from its original version.)

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