Missing Harvard hiker is found in Ecuador

Harvard student Jocelyn Karlan has been found in Ecuador, says her mother. Harvard student Jocelyn Karlan has been found in Ecuador, says her mother.
By Matt Collette
Globe Correspondent / July 21, 2009

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Three students, including a woman from Harvard University, who had gone missing while hiking on an inactive volcano in Ecuador are safe after being located yesterday by authorities, according to the mother of the local student.

Jocelyn Karlan, a 19-year-old Harvard student who has spent the last six weeks tutoring students for high school exams in the village of Otavalo, was one of about 12 students from the Village Education Project who, before dawn on Sunday, began climbing Imbabura, a 15,190-foot volcano 40 miles northeast of Quito, the capital city.

Deterred by heavy fog and temperatures as low as 40 degrees, most of the hikers turned back. But Karlan, volunteers Gage Newman, and Angela Cesena, and the group leader continued toward the summit, said her mother, Beth Karlan, in a telephone interview last night.

In an e-mail to the Globe sent early this morning, Jocelyn Karlan said she, Newman, and Cesena made it to the summit, but apparently took a wrong turn on the way down. They navigated through thick rainforest, then followed a riverbed toward their village. Starting at sunrise yesterday, they hiked for five hours before they encountered rescuers.

The three expect to return to teaching this week, Jocelyn Karlan said. Newman, 19, attends Swarthmore College and Cesena, 18, goes to Stanford.

Beth Karlan, a surgeon and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said, “I just had to believe that she was a smart kid that has an extra dose of common sense but also an extra dose of adventure.’’

The hikers’ group leader was separated from the three hikers at about 2 p.m. on Sunday, and another group of hikers said they saw them at about 4:30 p.m. local time. But the group did not return to the base that night, prompting a search, according to Lieutenant Jaime Vallejo, of Ecuador’s Police Air unit.

Yesterday evening, a police helicopter spotted the three hikers in a riverbed, where they had slept the night before, said Beth Karlan.

Jocelyn Karlan, who will be a sophomore at Harvard in the fall and plans to pursue a joint degree in psychology and neurobiology, was attracted to the Village Education Project because of its volunteer component and because she wanted to become fluent in Spanish, having taken courses in high school and college, her mother said.

A Harvard spokesman said last night that he could not discuss the incident or confirm that Jocelyn Karlan was a Harvard student because of federal privacy guidelines.

Beth Karlan said that she learned of her daughter’s disappearance through an early-morning phone call from another student in the program.

She said she’s always told her children “to live their lives like they were trapeze artists and I would be their safety net,’’ said Beth Karlan. “She really pushed it, but I’m not going to scold her. I’m just happy she’s safe.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Matt Collette can be reached at