Ann Rodgers and her dog survived by drinking pond water and eating plants, state officials said, and were rescued after a helicopter crew spotted the word “help” had spelled out on a canyon floor using sticks and rocks.
“The probabilities of finding her alive were really low,” said Gila County sheriff’s detective Johnny Holmes, who coordinated the search and rescue on Saturday. “It’s a miracle on its own that she’s still here given she was out there that many days.”
Rodgers went missing nine days earlier, on 31 March. She was on her way to visit her grandchildren in Phoenix when she ran out of gas and used up the charge in her hybrid vehicle. In an attempt to establish cellphone service to call for help, she climbed several ridge lines in the area but got lost.
She and her dog spent the next nine days and nights in the wilderness, running the risk of attack by wild animals such as bears and bobcats.
A multi-agency search began on 3 April, when Rodger’s car was found on the side of a remote road. Two separate aerial searches were conducted, as well as multiple ground searches. Officials didn’t find any tracks during the first few days.
Holmes said that by the sixth day, he and others were losing hope of finding Rodgers and her dog alive.
“We were expecting the worst but hoping for the best at that point,” he said.
Nine days into the search, on 9 April, several hikers went down to a creek bed where they spotted tracks, leading them to believe they were close to finding Rodgers and her pet. An aerial search was conducted, which led to the discovery of Rodger’s “help” sign.
Holmes said that under one of the rocks spelling out “help”, hikers found a hand written note by Rodgers.
“The note said she had been without food for three days and that she was going to continue looking for a ranch and going down stream,” Holmes said.
Shortly after, the aerial search unit spotted Rodgers. About 15 minutes before that, searchers on the ground had found her dog nearby.
Rodgers was in fair condition when she was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Payson for treatment. She was released a few hours later and is now in her home in Tucson.
Holmes said it took a number of different law enforcement and search and rescue agencies to find Rodgers. Among them were the Arizona department of public safety air rescue unit, White River Indian Reservation officials, and the Tonto Rim search and rescue.
Holmes has not met Rodgers but hopes he will.
“She’s an amazing person just from what I know from me dealing with the search on this end of it,” he said. “I’d love to shake her hand one day.”