ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A camper who became stranded nearly five weeks ago in a national forest because she could not cross a swollen river was rescued Sunday, more than two weeks after the search for her was called off.
A New Mexico National Guard crew waded across the icy Gila River to rescue a dehydrated and weak Carolyn Dorn of South Carolina, who entered the Gila National Forest alone on Dec. 6 for a two-week camping trip.
Two brothers found her Friday evening while hiking, said search and rescue coordinator Frankie Benoist of Silver City.
"They were walking along the river and heard a call for help," she said. "They would not have seen her if she had not called out. By that time she was very weak. She is extremely lucky."
Dorn was too weak to cross the river, so the brothers left food, water and wood for a fire and went for help, Benoist said. It took them a day to hike out and contact rescuers, who called in the National Guard.
"We needed a large helicopter ... one with night vision and a hoist, and we also needed a medic on board because of her condition," Benoist said.
Dorn was hospitalized in Silver City and should be fine, Benoist said. Her condition was unavailable.
Dorn, who travels often to Silver City, had planned to camp for two weeks. But five days into her trip, it rained and snowed and the Gila River rose, trapping her, Benoist said.
"The river got big, as she put it, so she did not want to cross it again," Benoist said. "It had become too dangerous and also she did not want to get her clothes wet and get hypothermic. By the time the river went down, she had run out of food and was starting to get weak."
Dorn had a tent, a sleeping bag and enough food and water for two weeks. After she became stuck, she drank from the river, kept warm by building fires and "used very little energy," Benoist said.
Temperatures have dropped into the low teens overnight in recent weeks, according to the National Weather Service.
Dorn's car was spotted 2 1/2 weeks after she left and reported to authorities. Benoist said her group conducted an intensive search, "but we never considered that she traveled so far" into the forest.
The search began Dec. 24 and ended Dec. 26. On the third day, after a large group of searchers with all-terrain vehicles, dogs and horses failed to find any clues, the search was called off, Benoist said.
The National Guard used coordinates provided by the hikers to fly to Dorn's camp 20 miles northeast of Silver City, said Chief Warrant Officer Dave Burrell.
The crew headed out Saturday night, but bad weather grounded the helicopter for about five hours in Las Cruces, Burrell said. The crew reached the forest about 5:30 a.m. Sunday and used night vision goggles to spot Dorn's camp near the river in a steep ravine, Burrell said.
He could not land the helicopter on her side of the river, so the crew lowered a medic, Staff Sgt. Greg Holmes, into her camp.
Burrell then found a place to land across the river.
Burrell, Holmes, Sgt. Ian Weigner and Maj. John Fishburn carried Dorn across the knee-deep river while a second pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Race Baker, waited. They then flew to Silver City with Dorn, who was dehydrated and hypothermic, Burrell said.