California college student, 21, goes missing after canoeing in the ocean while setting up a treasure hunt

A search is underway for a missing California student who disappeared after a canoe trip in the Pacific Ocean.

Hunter Nathaniel Lewis, 21, did not return home on December 30. The student from California State University in Long Beach was last believed to have canoeed near the port of Trinidad between 10 a.m. and noon, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said.

Hunter Nathaniel Lewis.Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office

According to Lewis’s family, he left his Blue Lake residence at 8:30 a.m. to hide items as part of a treasure hunt he organized for friends, the sheriff’s office said.

That evening, delegates began a ground search and the US Coast Guard deployed a helicopter and boat to search the water, but there were no signs of Lewis.

Several agencies, including the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Posse, the US Coast Guard and California State Parks, are searching the surrounding beaches and ocean for Lewis, using a Coast Guard helicopter, boats and foot surveys.

A broken piece of Lewis’ 15-foot green fiberglass canoe washed ashore north of Elk Head on Saturday. An additional search of that area by deputies and the Coast Guard yielded no clues as to Lewis’s whereabouts.

An underwater search was launched Thursday morning by the Humboldt Bay Fire Dive Rescue and Recovery Team, along with other agencies, in the Flatiron Rock area, northwest of Trinidad Head. Teams had determined it was “necessary” to search there underwater based on information gathered and items found during searches in the Trinidad area, officials said.

The search involved multiple boats, a deep-water sonar, lifeguards and divers.

However, Thursday’s search turned up no traces of Hunter or his belongings.

Hunter had an Instagram page called “Lostlewistreasure” where he posted about the treasure hunt he staged in Humboldt, California, with a “cash prize over $100”.

Corey Lewis, Hunter’s father, said the family is working with independent search and rescue teams, divers and sonar-powered boats, calling the mission “a recovery operation.” It is no longer a rescue operation.”

Corey said his son loved surfing, rock climbing and playing the guitar and that he had already obtained his pilot’s and diving licenses.

He was studying aerospace engineering, dreamed of becoming an astronaut and was accepted to a training academy at NASA.

About two years ago, he decided he would start working on this epic treasure hunt for all his friends and family to take part in one day,” his father said.

“He was coming up with clues and we went out to find a clue and take it home and sit around the kitchen table in the evenings researching things to solve these riddles. It was great fun. It brought us all together,” he added.

Corey said one of the clues on a key was Hunter printed on a 3D printer with teeth that matched the perimeter of two islands nearby, and the heart on the key matched Flatiron Rock.

Hunter went into the ocean in a canoe to deposit a treasure chest on Flatiron Rock, Corey said, but “there’s a shallow, rocky reef just inside Flatiron that he knew nothing about.”

“We’re pretty sure it fell over and perished on that reef,” he said.

Lewis said searchers found debris from the treasury on Trinidad State Beach. Among the rubble was something precious to the Lewis family: a wooden box that Corey’s father gave him.

“He always had a smile on his face. He had such a zest for life,” Corey said. “One of his friends from college whom I’ve never met sent me a message saying, ‘Hunter taught me more than anyone I’ve ever known. He taught me to smile and to like myself.’ And that was Hunter.”

Anyone with information about Hunter’s current or potential whereabouts is requested to contact the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251.

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