By George Gore Brown, Special to the Independent
Laguna Niguel mountain biker Chris Burridge met Chris Hukill through a mutual friend last week. The three of them struck out on a ride together that descended down the Telonics trail from the Alta Laguna Park area.
Burridge and his friend stopped at a split in the trail and wondered about Hukill’s whereabouts, immediately feeling that something was wrong. “We were calling his name, freaking out,” Burridge recalled.
They scanned the area and by chance looked over the cliff edge. Burridge saw Hukill’s bike lodged in a tree 50-feet below the edge and immediately called 911.
Mountain biker Chris Hukill, 58, of San Clemente, remains in critical condition after a 200-foot fall Friday, April 22, which required rescuers reach him through steep terrain before he was airlifted for medical treatment, police said.
Burridge is unsure why Hukill went over the edge. Burridge said the rescuers path to Hukill was assisted by a Laguna Canyon resident who, incredibly, had taken a similar fall a few years earlier.
The section, famously known as Volkswagen Rock, contains a steep rock obstacle. Local mountain bikers speculate that Hukill may have attempted to go around the rock. The section is not at a corner, where a change in momentum can upend a rider, adding to the mystery of what happened.
After falling from Telonics trail, an off-shoot from the Canyon Acres trail, Hukill became trapped in the area that corresponds with the 2800 block of Laguna Canyon Road, said police Sgt. Tim Kleiser.
Local firefighters called for the assistance of the Orange County Fire Authority due to the severity of the incident, said OCFA Captain Larry Kurtz.
Once fire crews located Hukill, he was treated and stabilized before being hoisted into a helicopter around 6:40 p.m., and taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, said Kurtz.
Laguna Beach mountain biker Amy Stonich, who was riding up to the Top of the World at the time, watched the arrival of three helicopters with foreboding. “We had the immediate concern that it was a mountain biker that went over the cliff. It’s a tight knit community with mountain biking and we were terrified for whoever went over and were worried that it was one of our close friends,” she said.
The Telonics trail is not an authorized park trail. No extra closures or new safety measures have yet been discussed, said Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Ranger Barbara Norton.
Hailley Hukill said her father’s injuries include damage to his spine, head, lung and ribs. He has undergone surgery and is currently in an intensive care unit, where he is expected to remain for another two weeks, she said. Hukill has feeling in all his limbs, but it’s too soon to know if he will fully recover due to swelling, said his daughter.
Hukill owns Hukill Paint and Graphics in Laguna Hills. His family has established a fund to help pay for therapy, https://www.gofundme.com/hukillfund. In a single day, the page received $20,000 in donations from over 100 people.
George Gore Browne is a journalism student and Indy intern.