FRESNO, Calif. – A 62-year-old hiker missing for nine days in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada with a broken leg endured freezing nighttime temperatures and crawled two days for water before getting the attention of rescuers with a whistle she carried for moments of crisis, authorities said Monday.
Miyuki Harwood slipped and fell about six feet after she left her hiking group and headed back to camp alone because she was low on water.
After two days on the ground, she decided to crawl 150 yards down a rocky, shrub-covered ravine to a spot where she heard running water, Fresno County sheriff’s Deputy Jason Vinogradoff said.
“‘I can die here, or I can at least get to the water and survive,”’ she told Vinogradoff, who talked with her Saturday, just moments after she sounded her whistle to alert rescuers.
She was shivering, pale and crying tears of joy when searchers found her, Vinogradoff said, adding that she asked about her family.
Vinogradoff described Harwood’s survival as a miracle and said the avid hiker is a strong-willed person who did not complain of extreme pain. He believes the whistle saved her life.
Once she was secured in the helicopter, the group of 15 rescuers erupted in applause.
“Everybody was pretty happy that she got the outcome that she did,” California Highway Patrol helicopter pilot Officer Riley Dixon said.
Harwood, a resident of Folsom, was flown to a hospital in Fresno about 100 miles away and underwent surgery to set broken bones. She has declined requests for interviews.
Harwood had been on an extended hiking trip organized by the Sierra Club. The group searched for her after she disappeared and reported her missing, prompting the search led by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
The effort was joined by more than 50 people on foot, horseback and helicopter. Smoke from a massive wildfire several miles away hampered searchers in aircraft.
Harwood ate nothing during the nine days she was missing, but she had a water filter. Vinogradoff said she was wearing hiking pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a down jacket. She sought shelter under a tree.
With each passing day, fears grew among rescuers. After being notified that she was alive, Dixon set out from Fresno in his helicopter.
Wildfire smoke forced him to take a longer route. He landed on a granite slab at an elevation of 9,200 feet and watched rescuers carry Harwood on a stretcher toward him.
Survival instructor Cliff Hodges, founder of Adventure Out LLC, said that without the water from the stream, Harwood would not have survived for nine days. He said the whistle was also a lifesaver, and she was fortunate to be lost in the summer.
She could not have endured frigid winter temperatures without shelter, he said, adding that her will to survive undoubtedly played a role.
“Ms. Harwood is clearly a tenacious and courageous individual,” Hodges said. “Many people, even in the summer, I’m afraid would not have fared as well.”
Bender reported from San Francisco.