ST. GEORGE — Multiple search and rescue teams were dispatched Saturday afternoon after an 18-year-old woman with autism wandered off into the trees at Panguitch Lake and didn’t return.
The woman was on vacation from Las Vegas visiting her grandparents at Panguitch Lake in the Blue Springs area, Denise Dastrup, public information officer for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, told St. George News. (see Ed. note)
“They have a cabin right there on the flats of Blue Springs, and she went and took a hike … and as you know up on Panguitch Lake there’s a lot of trees and stuff, and she just wandered up the hill. And they didn’t know where she wandered.”
At approximately 1 p.m., multiple agencies responded to the scene to search for the woman including Garfield County Sherriff’s Office, Kane County Sheriff’s Office, Iron County Sheriff’s Office as well as search and rescue crews from Garfield County and other areas. The Department of Natural Resources also arrived on scene with four vehicles to search the area. There were also just concerned people in the area who also got involved.
“We had elk hunters who came from their camps to search and people who had cabins showed up to search. It was amazing,” she said. “They had been searching for quite some time, but it wasn’t until the helicopter came and was able to locate her that we were able to accomplish the rescue.”
The Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter arrived on scene and began searching between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.
“They started looking around on the hills above and were able to locate her,” Dastrup said. “They couldn’t get her out. The terrain was too rough. They came back to our incident command area and said, ‘Get some people up there fast. We’ll go hover above her until they come and can find her.'”
The woman’s mother, who was working in Las Vegas when her daughter went missing but immediately drove up to the area, told St. George News a man had descended from the helicopter to the spot where the woman was found.
Multiple people ran up toward that area and found the woman. She had hurt her ankle and had been sitting down. Some of the Garfield County deputies and others were able to walk her down to a road below, where she was then transported the rest of the way out by an all-terrain vehicle.
They put ice on her ankle and wrapped it, but it wasn’t broken, Dastrup said.
“You never know, with her being autistic, what she was going to do once a lot of people came around, but I think she was really glad to see them, especially glad to see her mom,” Dastrup said.
By the time the woman was found, at approximately 7 p.m., the temperature had dropped into the lower 60s. The temperatures would have dropped into the 30s overnight. The woman did not have food or a jacket.
Dastrup emphasized the critical importance of having support from the Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter to come out and help locate people during search and rescue missions.
“They actually told me, when I talked to the crew, to this date, to that date of that night, they had rescued 148 people and this was their 149th,” she said. “I don’t know if we would have been able to locate her without that.”
The woman’s mother also expressed her sincere gratitude to the helicopter crew and other first responders and residents.
Ed. note: An earlier version of this article stated that the girl was on vacation with her mother.
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