DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — As her husband went for help, Cathy Frye lay on the ground of a remote Texas state park, hiding from the sun under a small tree.
She was alone for two days until someone on high ground spotted her.
Frye, an award-winning reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, remained in an El Paso hospital Monday, one day after she was airlifted by helicopter to safety. Her husband, Democrat-Gazette photographer Rick McFarland, who had left his wife behind at her request, used his camera to eventually locate his car and drive for help.
He shared the good news with friends in a text message that read in part: “I’ve not seen her yet, but overjoyed is nowhere near how I feel.”
Rescuers found Frye, the 43-year-old mother of two children, in a dry creek known as an arroyo. She had taken off her clothes, was severely dehydrated, and had sunburn, bruises and cactus thorns all over her body, the newspaper reported.
The partial federal government shutdown had forced Frye and her husband out of their original destination, Big Bend National Park, on Tuesday. The couple was familiar with that remote park on the U.S.-Mexico border, having been married there in 2001 and visited every year since. But they took a local employee’s advice and went west to Big Bend Ranch State Park, which remained open.
Big Bend Ranch is the largest state park in Texas, sitting on more than 300,000 acres of the Chihuahuan Desert wilderness.
The couple arrived Wednesday and headed toward a popular hiking trail. But Frye and McFarland, 58, overshot their mark and spent that night near a scenic overlook, tired and out of water, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
They found the right trail the next day, but then lost it again. While resting, Frye accidentally left behind a fanny pack containing food. That night, the couple slept in wet clothes and with no material to start a fire.
On Friday, Frye told her husband she couldn’t go any farther. They decided McFarland should carry on toward their truck, get help and come back for Frye,
McFarland eventually found a ridge with a sweeping view. He took a photo with his camera and zoomed in on his viewfinder — eventually spotting a truck. That helped him find the parking spot where he had left their vehicle so he could head to the ranger’s station.
More than three dozen people would join the search for Frye, including U.S. Border Patrol agents and the Texas Department of Public Safety. By Saturday, news that she was missing had gotten back to Little Rock.
Amy Upshaw Webb, a close friend and former colleague of the couple, said she took comfort in knowing that Frye was a seasoned reporter who had covered major disasters, including the 2010 flooding at an Arkansas campground that killed 20 people.
“She’s a preparer,” Webb said. “If anybody could be prepared for something like this, I’m sure Cathy at one time or another read about this type of situation.”
She had. Frye told the newspaper that she had read that those who survive her kind of ordeal try to stay in place during the hottest times of the day.
Game wardens cleared brush to make room for a helicopter to land. She was eventually flown by private plane to El Paso.
David Bailey, managing editor of the Democrat-Gazette, received the text message from McFarland after noon Sunday. He said his staff’s collective mood went from “really, really somber to ecstatic in a heartbeat.”
“I think we’re all just exhausted now, but it’s happy exhaustion,” Bailey said.
Frye joined the newspaper in 1999 and is a past winner of the Livingston Award given to journalists under the age of 35. McFarland joined the staff in 1992. The two sometimes work together on assignments.
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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