FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (CBSDFW.COM/CBS NEWS/AP) – Authorities say a 24-year-old North Texas woman spent five days stranded in scorching heat in a remote area of northern Arizona before she was rescued Friday.
The state Department of Public Safety says Amber VanHecke was driving near the south rim of the Grand Canyon when her car ran out of gas.
She couldn’t get a cell phone signal but after being stranded five days she decided to take off on what would be a seven-mile trek to a place where she could call 911.
DPS says the call was dropped before police could zero in on her location, but deputies from a local sheriff’s office and troopers from the DPS Air Rescue Unit used their knowledge of the area to narrow down where her car likely was. The search came to an end when a DPS helicopter spotted the vehicle from the air.
VanHecke had placed white rocks on the ground spelling out HELP in large letters and left notes at the car detailing where she was headed in search of a cell phone signal. The helicopter flew in that direction and crew members spotted her on the road, frantically waiving to get their attention.
VanHecke was treated at the scene for exposure, then taken by helicopter to a trauma center in Flagstaff.
Trooper paramedic and helicopter crew member Edgar Bissonette was the first one on the ground to greet her. He told CBS Phoenix affiliate KPHO-TV that he greeted her saying, “Hi, did you call?” Bissonette said she smiled and gave him a big bear hug.
VanHecke was running out of food and water when she was found. But Bissonette said she was strategic in her consumption and her planning.
“She was smart and prepared. She had food and water in her vehicle for the trip. Even though she was down to her last bit of water, it kept her going,” he said. “When she left the vehicle, she left notes so we knew where to find her. She did everything right.”
VanHecke, a student at the University of North Texas, is now recovering at home in Denton. In a Facebook post, she wrote, “I guess I got to cross riding in a helicopter off my bucket list.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)