By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
A young Texas woman on spring break was rescued last week after being stranded for five days in a remote area of the Havasupai Reservation in northern Arizona, the Arizona Department of Public Safety reported.
Amber Vanhecke was rescued March 17 near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. She told rescuers she was driving through the area to go hiking when her car ran out of gas.
Vanhecke followed the proper survival procedures, “which made it possible for the Arizona Department of Public Safety Air Rescue unit to successfully find and bring her to safety,” the AZDPS report said.
Vanhecke used her car battery to keep her phone charged. On her Facebook page, Vanhecke posted that she “also tried a signal fire but since everything was so dry, it burned too clean.”
After a truck drove by and failed to notice her, she decided to erect a road barricade in hopes of getting a motorist to stop, the Arizona Republic reported.
On March 17, she placed a 911 call to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, but the transmission was dropped before rescue workers could determine her exact location.
Sheriff’s office deputies and troopers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety Air Rescue unit, however, determined a likely area where she might be. DPS Air Rescue pilot Jonah Nieves and trooper paramedic Edgar Bissonette then began to search for her by helicopter.
After flying for nearly 40 minutes, they spotted a glare in the distance. Nieves said a glare was unusual in that area and so they flew toward it.
‘It’s Like the Sahara Desert’
Describing the remote area, Nieves told a press conference, “You think of the Grand Canyon, you’re thinking big trees, grass. There’s nothing [in the search area]. It’s like the Sahara Desert. It’s just empty.”
That emptiness worked to their advantage because they were able to easily spot Vanhecke’s vehicle. At first Nieves and Bissonette thought it could be a local rancher’s vehicle, but then they saw a large, makeshift “Help” sign.
By then, Vanhecke’s food was gone and she was almost out of water. “When she left the vehicle, she left notes so we knew where to find her. She did everything right,” Bissonette said.
In one handwritten note, Vanhecke explained she was going to follow the road east to try to find a cell phone signal.
Shortly afterward, Vanhecke was spotted on the side of the road, waving her arms to get their attention. Her rescuers treated Vanhecke at the scene for exposure before transporting her to a trauma center in Flagstaff, AZDPS officials said.
“After five days, I expected someone to be in a more at-risk condition than her,” Bissonette commented.
He and Nieves credited Vanhecke’s survival to her wilderness preparedness, including everything from conserving her food and water to leaving notes for rescuers to find.
“If she didn’t leave notes, then you’re like, ‘Is this the person we’re looking for?’ There are a lot more questions up in the air,” Nieves told the Arizona Republic. “She ran out of gas…but she was a survivor. She did a lot of things that helped her survive.”
Nieves said hikers need to go back to basics in remote areas and use maps when GPS systems fail. He also advises against going out with “just enough gas.”
Nieves said the people he usually encounters think they have enough gas. But they need to account for taking wrong turns and other road incidents that can lead to higher gas usage.
About the Author
David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. David’s 2015 book, “The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever,” has just been published in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
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