The group of hikers that found actor Julian Sands’ body months after he vanished in the Southern California mountains have spoken out about the “surreal” experience for the first time.
Sands, 65, was reported missing by his wife on Jan. 13 after the “The Killing Fields” star never returned from a hike in the San Gabriel Mountains outside of Los Angeles. He was last seen in the area of Mount Baldy — which is notoriously treacherous for hikers.
His body was found by local hikers on June 24 after months of unsuccessful search efforts.
The leader of the hiking group who, like all hikers in the area, was well aware Sands had gone missing on the mountain, had an eerie fear in the back of her mind: “I hope we don’t find a dead body today,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
Three hours later, the group said they weren’t surprised when they spotted a lone boot. And then another boot, a trekking pole and, finally, human bones.
They found a pile of dark winter clothing and a wallet nearby. Inside the wallet was a driver’s license with Sands’ familiar face looking back at them. The name on the ID confirmed their suspicions.
“It was surreal,” hiker Bill Dwyer told the outlet.
The hikers noted how his remains blended into the landscape, making him hard to locate.
The group’s organizer told the outlet that the hike, while difficult, is beautiful: “Full of wildflowers and waterfalls, it’s perfect for people who don’t like trails, like me.”
They reached the flat canyon, at about 8,400 feet, three-and-a-half hours later. The organizer said she walked right past the first boot, which was spotted by another hiker behind her.
The bones, they said, were scattered — likely by wild animals. But Sands’ remains could have been pushed into the area by avalanches or melting snow.
What was most concerning to the hikers was the lack of equipment found near the remains necessary for such a dangerous winter hike.
They did not find a backpack, which could have contained necessary survival supplies, and noted he was “dressed like a ninja” in dark clothing, making him hard for rescuers to spot.
The hikers also noted that he was wearing microspikes — small metal cleats that are great for hiking on snowy trails, but not for icy mountain trails, where crampons, heavy spikes strapped to hiking boots, are necessary, according to the LA Times.
“I was a little shocked to see the microspikes,” Dwyer said. “They were just the wrong tools for the job at hand.”
They also found no signs of a helmet or an ice axe. They did find Sands’ cellphone perched on a rock beneath a tree, but most of the mountain does not get reception.
After finding the bones, Dwyer used his Garmin InReach — a $400 pocket-size satellite-messaging device — to send an SOS with their exact location to authorities, he told The Times. Responders arrived in eight minutes, he said.
Officials confirmed the remains were Sands’ three days later, five months after his disappearance.
There have been more than 100 rescues and at least 10 deaths on Mt. Baldy since 2020, according to the LA Times.
How or exactly when Sands died has still not been determined. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said last month that his death was ruled “undetermined due to the condition of the body and this is common when dealing with cases of this type.”
The search for the English actor was hindered by the weather. After he had been reported missing, the county sheriff’s office conducted eight land and air searches, totaling more than 500 hours and costing over $100,000, according to the LA Times.
Heavy storms repeatedly buried the area under piles of snow in the days after Sands’ went missing.
Officials determined he was likely to be in Goode Canyon — where he was eventually found — after his cellphone last pinged from a ridge on the Baldy Bowl trail. Searching the canyon on foot during the winter would have been risky to rescuers given the snow, ice and steep terrain, officials said.
Another large search effort was launched in June, but Sands was still not found, despite the use of high-tech equipment from helicopters.