Body found confirmed as missing hiker from T.O.

Zachary Zernik went missing in the Mount Boney area Saturday.
Zachary Zernik went missing in the Mount Boney area Saturday.

Ventura County Sheriff's search-and-rescue team members located a body Thursday morning while searching for a 22-year-old rock climber from Thousand Oaks who went missing in the state wilderness area near Mount Boney over the weekend.

By early afternoon, the Medical Examiner's Office had confirmed the remains were those of 22-year-old Zachary Zernik, who left from the Wendy/Potrero trailhead Saturday morning.

The body was found near the Mount Boney/Tri-Peaks area at the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains, said sheriff's Cmdr. Jeremy Paris. The cause of death is pending an autopsy, he said.

Search crews had been able to narrow their search area due to a photo Zernik had sent to his friends on Saturday, which showed Zernik atop a rock in rugged terrain. Paris said metadata on the photo, which included the GPS location where the picture was taken, was helpful in homing in on an area.

“It looks like it's just a tragic accident from what we know right now,” Paris said before the medical examiner had confirmed the remains were Zernik's.

Zernik was last seen by family on Saturday morning. He did not show up for work Monday, according to information released by the sheriff’s office, and was reported missing Wednesday.

The search effort included 30 search-and-rescue team members, search dogs, a sheriff’s helicopter and a search plane outfitted with infrared technology provided by the California Office of Emergency Services, Paris said. Three search-and-rescue teams, including the East Valley, Upper Ojai and Fillmore Mountain teams, which are comprised of volunteers and coordinated through the sheriffs office, participated in the search.

Around 40 community members also showed up to assist Thursday morning. The sheriff's office issued a request for the public's help Wednesday afternoon.

Paris said he was thankful for the community’s effort. “We’re really grateful for that,” he said.

Paris said his son, Brad, went to Thousand Oaks High School with Zernik. His son described the former classmate as “a great guy” who was always positive and happy.

Paris also said he has been in contact with Zernik's family members.

"The family is extremely grieved," he said.

The family has not made a public statement, Paris said.

Zernik graduated from Thousand Oaks High in 2018 and studied bioengineering at UCLA, according to his Facebook page. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 2019, having hiked nearly 400 miles at that point.

After learning of Zernik’s disappearance, Ben Kuo, a Newbury Park amateur radio enthusiast and satellite imagery guru, visited the popular trailhead Zernik had left from. Kuo, who in 2021 helped the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department pinpoint the location of a lost hiker in Angeles National Forest using satellite imagery, ran into a group of Zernik’s friends, who showed him the missing man’s car.

Kuo said the photo Zernik sent to friends was from an area past the Upper Cabin Trailhead in the Mount Boney State Wilderness Area. Kuo described the terrain as "dicey," but with rocks that are appealing to rock climbers.

Paris said it is unclear which route Zernik took.

Paris recommended that hikers always notify others of their hiking plans before leaving and to pack proper gear, including a jacket, as temperatures can drop after sunset.

This story may be updated.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Missing hiker's body found in mountains outside Thousand Oaks