A California college student who was setting up a complex treasure hunt has become the subject of a search himself when he vanished in the Pacific Ocean while paddling a canoe, relatives said.
Hunter Lewis, a 21-year-old aerospace engineering student at Cal State Long Beach, left from Trinidad Beach in Humboldt County on Dec. 30 as a part of his nearly two-year plan to hide objects for his family and friends to find in the contest — which has become a beloved tradition, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Now, instead of enjoying the treasure hunt — which started as an Instagram page and grew has 230 followers — the family is searching for Hunter.
“He’s that lost treasure,” his dad, Corey Lewis told the Los Angeles Times.
The avid young outdoorsman was likely heading to Flatiron Rock — a tiny island several hundred yards offshore — but he hasn’t returned and may have encountered a rocky reef in the treacherous waters along the coast, his father told the newspaper.
Hopes to find Hunter alive are now dwindling with each passing day, according to his father.
“At this point, it’s a recovery operation, not a rescue operation,” the elder Lewis told the newspaper Tuesday. “I am just hoping to find my son to return to his mother to bury.”
The grim outlook comes as portions of Hunter’s canoe and other personal objects have washed ashore, including a wooden cigar box that had become a prized possession following an earlier treasure hunt held by the family.
“I gave it to Hunter, and he kept his little treasures and belongings in it, and he had it with him and was hiding treasure in it,” Lewis continued. “We found it on a beach.”
The treasure hunt concocted by Hunter included clues and keys made from a 3-D printer and required participants to rappel down a cliffside at one point, the Times reported.
The excursion came as Hunter and his girlfriend were visiting Humboldt County over winter break, according to the newspaper.
“We were out searching through the different clues [on Dec. 30] and we knew he was hiding the treasure,” the elder Lewis told the Times. “And he never returned.”
Hunter’s father later alerted sheriff officials, leading them and the US Coast Guard to search the beach. Active rescue efforts were later suspended on New Year’s Eve, but the search for Hunter is still ongoing Friday, Lewis said in a Facebook group dedicated to finding his lost son.
“It’s not over!” Lewis wrote early Friday. “The hunt goes on!”
The group had 2,900 members as of Friday, including some who said they searched nearby trails and beaches as recently as late Thursday. Earlier in the week, Lewis posted a photo of Hunter’s “wooden treasure bucket” that was found Tuesday on Trinidad State Beach.
“I’m not stopping ever,” Lewis said of his search efforts Thursday. “I’m going to bring Hunter home.”
Underwater searches Thursday in the Flatiron Rock area led to no signs of Hunter or his belongings, according to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
Hunter, a junior, was visiting home in Blue Lake, California, with his girlfriend when he went missing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
It’s unclear if Hunter was wearing a wetsuit at the time, but Corey Lewis suspects he was not. The young man had dreams of becoming an astronaut and was recently accepted to NASA’s PoSSUM Scientist Astronaut Program, the Chronicle reported.
An online fundraiser to help pay for private search teams had raised $31,000 as of Friday, but Corey Lewis realizes the hopes for finding his son alive are slim.
“In that water, there’s no chance of survival,” Lewis told the Chronicle of conditions off Trinidad Beach.