Drone Rescue: A Woman Goes Missing In A Canyon For 6 Months And Was Found By Chance When A Drone Crashed Looking For Her Remains

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By: Lindsey Charleston | Last updated: Dec 14, 2022

Going for a pleasant hike on a lovely day sounds routine, safe, and fun, but getting lost in a big forest can happen to anyone. Once you realize you are lost, you try to keep calm, but then you might begin to panic.  Who is going to help you? How can you get hom

In November 2020 a 47-year-old woman began a hike in Utah. She never came out of the forest…

The Scenario

On that day in November 2020, the young woman went for a hike on the Dry Canyon Trailhead in Diamond Fork Canyon, located about an hour outside Salt Lake City.

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She had driven her car to a campground and started her hike close by. She never returned to her car. The abandoned car was reported and the Utah County Sheriff’s Office went to investigate. On the trail, just by where the car was found, they found an old tent.

Great Place for a Hike

This story took place in Diamond Fork Canyon, which is a favorite site for campers, hikers, and outdoorsy types. The trails are busy every day. The campground is close to the very popular Fifth Water Hot Springs.

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The 16.9 km trail is considered moderately challenging and takes an average of 6 hours to complete. People hike the trail all day and even at night.

A Worrisome Find

The 47-year-old woman parked her car in one of the gravel parking lots of the canyon. Most hikers park in one of these lots and then follow a bridge across a river to the camping site and hiking trails.

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Source: Utah County Sheriff's Office

Unlike the other hikers, at the end of the day, this woman did not return to her car. This is when the US Forest Service officials knew something was wrong and began their search.

The Officials Learn More about the Hiker

The police and park officials searched the area near the car and campground. They feared that the woman suffered from mental health problems which caused her to become disoriented.

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The detectives studied the belongings left in the woman’s car and the nearby campground. They also spoke to her co-workers to get a better picture of the woman’s history. At that point, the officials felt that the facts suggested that the hiker indeed struggled with mental health issues.

The Search Team Grows

The story began to spread, touching people’s hearts. Many seasoned hikers know the feeling of becoming lost and knew that they had to help a fellow hiker. Aware that this particular hiker might also suffer from mental health issues, the volunteers flocked to the scene.

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Search and rescue volunteers began scouring the area, side by side with the Utah County Sherriff’s Office deputies, all desperately hoping to find some clues.

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Her Tent?

The search party failed – no clues were found. Searchers felt devastated and the important questions lingered in their minds. Where had she wandered off to?  Why had she left the trail? All of these questions were left unanswered after a long search.

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The search teams experienced a few hopeful moments when they found an abandoned tent. The tent was tucked away in the foliage.  Officials could not determine if the tent even belonged to the missing hiker.

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Did She Want to be Found?

After an extensive search, officials came to a sad conclusion. Perhaps this woman did not want to be found. She left her car, wandered into the trail, and allowed herself to become lost in the wilderness.  Which begs the question – why?

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After all of the interviews and the days of searching, the story remained a mystery. The team hoped that perhaps she’d walk out of the wilderness one day on her own, or some clue would turn up. It pained the searchers and the officials to end the search, fearing the worst.

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Not Giving Up

Even though the official search was over, the Utah County Sherriff’s Office and the forest service did not stop hoping for a better end to the story.

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Diamond Canyon is huge – it is almost impossible to cover every inch of the trails and surrounding forest, even with a large team. And if someone doesn’t want to be found, there are many places to hide.  Even so, the officials never gave up hope.

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The Search was Thorough

It sounds sad when a search for a missing person is called off.  In a case like this, there are always folks who question whether absolutely everything was done to find the individual. 

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The Utah County Sheriff’s Office made it abundantly clear that the search had covered the area on the ground and from the air, and had done all it could to find the hiker. Sergeant Spencer Cannon reported that despite their efforts, “We could not find anyone.”

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Did She Just Walk Away?

Struggling with the disappointment of the failed ground and air searches, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office decided to go a few steps further. They plunged into detective work

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The Office checked the woman’s phone records to pinpoint her last known location. Incredibly, the phone records suggested that the woman made her way to Colorado after leaving her car and camping equipment behind. From that point, Colorado is at least 420 miles away; walking would take well over a week.

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What about Her Family?

The trek to Colorado seemed highly unlikely, so the Sherriff’s Office intensified their efforts to find the woman’s family.  

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With the information they had in hand, the Office could not find a single family member.  Another disappointment for the search team, the Sherriff’s team felt that they had surely tried every possible way to find the lost hiker.

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Another Talk with her Co-Workers

Without family members to question, the Sherriff’s Office decided to re-try talking with the woman’s co-workers. They were determined to ensure they had not overlooked one iota of detail that might help.

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The co-workers confirmed what the Sherriff’s Office already thought, that the woman struggled with mental illness. Did she get lost?  Did she mean to wander off?  Did she have a destination? Was there a plan?  All of these questions lingered, taunting the searchers.

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Bringing in Air Support

It had already been several months since to disappearance of the hiker, yet no one in the Utah County Sherriff’s Office was giving up.  Finally, a team of a Sergeant, a search and rescue coordinator, and a group from a nonprofit aerial search organization teamed up.  

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What would they find?  How could they possibly cover this vast area?  What exactly were they looking for?  The team hoped to locate any kind of evidence that would lead them to the hiker.

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The Drone Goes Up…and Crashes

Hopes were high that the woman was simply lost in the Diamond Canyon area.  The aerial team had brought a drone to help them cover more area in a short amount of time.

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On the very first attempt to use the drone, it crashed. Could anything else go wrong during this search?  It seemed the team was destined not to find this person who had already been missing for months.

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Is All Hope Lost?

The officers and aerial team were anxious to find the downed drone. It meant trudging through the wilderness once again.

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The slogging through the forest paid off, however. This was the biggest and happiest surprise of this months-long ordeal.

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The Little Drone That Could

The drone was found, and amazingly it had fallen right near a tent. In the literal “middle of nowhere.”  This small campsite was hidden away near foliage and would have been easily missed by searchers.

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Source: Utah County Sheriff's Office

What happened next boggles the mind.  The tent zipper opened – someone was inside. A moment later a woman’s face popped out. 

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It’s Over!

As the team stood watching, the tent zipper unzipped and this woman, whose photo they had been looking at for close to six months, stuck her head out.

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Source: Utah County Sheriff's Office

The missing hiker had been found, totally by a happy accident. The months of searching, detective work, interviews, and theorizing were over.

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How Did She Survive?

The woman had lost a significant amount of weight and was quite weak, but the Utah County Sherriff’s Office found out she had been quite resourceful.

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Source: Utah County Sheriff's Office

She’d rationed the food she had brought with her but had also foraged for grass and moss to eat. The river nearby supplied her with water.

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Yes, She Wanted to Live There

The 47-year-old knew what she was doing. That’s the conclusion of experts who examined her at the Utah Valley Hospital.  The woman had parked, left her car behind, and went to live in Diamond Canyon.

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After her physical exam, the deputies decided that the next stop should be a visit to the Utah Valley Hospital for a mental health evaluation. All of the officials were anxious for the woman’s health and well-being, wondering if she had the plan to return to the tent in the Canyon.

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She’s Tough

‘”I have to be honest, we fully expected we wouldn’t find anybody…alive up here given how long it had been… In situations like that, we often find somebody after they passed away.”  Sergeant Cannon was in awe.

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Sergeant Cannon added, “Hats off to her as a survivor…”  Despite whatever else she is struggling with in her life, she managed to survive an entire winter in the Canyon, in impossible circumstances, for almost six months.

 

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Totally Within the Law

Remarkably, it is not against the law to do what this woman did. Camping out within the Canyon is legal, even though it’s a public area.

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The Sherriff’s Department even made a statement to that effect, “We want to be clear that while many people might choose to not live in the circumstances and conditions this woman did, she did nothing against the law.” She survived, didn’t break any laws, and is going on with her life. A strange and remarkable story. Her name was never released to the public.

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