A woman with a history of mental illness survived for 3½ weeks in a New Mexico national forest before being reportedly found on Wednesday with just her cat and a blue sleeping bag.
Though family members reported Margaret Page missing on Feb. 14, it took authorities more than three weeks to begin their search. The 41-year-old Albuquerque woman was found Wednesday morning, hours after the quest began Tuesday night, according to the Silver City (N.M.) Sun-News. She had withstood freezing temperatures at night, and was well hydrated but emaciated and malnourished when she was discovered by authorities, wrapped in her sleeping bag.
"Her cat was in better shape than she was," New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue incident commander Marc Levesque told The Associated Press. "Her cat was also hunting. (Page) ran out of food a while back."
Though all of the details are still unknown, AP reported Saturday that Page apparently set off hiking with her cat, Miya, between Feb. 10-12. Authorities didn't begin searching for her until this week when her family notified state police that her car had been found at a campground.
"When they called in at 9 a.m. (Wednesday) and said 'we found her,' my chin dropped and I said, 'is she alive?'" Glenn Tolhurst, operations section chief for the search told the Sun-News. "They said, 'She's alive. And she's got a cat.'"
Page and her cat had minimal supplies, rescue workers said on Friday, and they used a near-by creek for drinking water. They were found about a mile up the Railroad Canyon Trail in an area known as the Black Range, where the closest town, Dusty, N.M., is about 10 miles away. Page, who was in her sleeping bag when she was rescued, was about 25 yards off the trail. During her disappearance, the highs were around 60 degrees during the day before dropping to the low 20s at night. While it didn't snow or rain during Page's time in the forest, there were high winds.
Details of her mental illness were not disclosed.
A Forest Service law enforcement agent saw her silver Chevy on Feb. 12, but didn't report it since it's common for hikers to leave their vehicles near trails, Lt. Robert McDonald, a spokesman for the state police, told AP. Her car was spotted by another Forest Service worker on Feb. 25, but the agent didn't contact the state police for 10 days. It is unclear why there was such a delay. The Grant County Search and Rescue team along with other crews started searching for Page after her family had notified state police that Page's car had been found at a campground.
As the search mission got under way, Page's car was towed, which field-certified member of the Dona Ana County Search and Rescue team Robert Matulich said was unusual, since vehicles can be used to give the search dogs a scent to use.
Forest Service officials referred calls to the New Mexico State Police, who didn't have any information about the towed vehicle. The Forest Service didn't return further calls from the Sun-News for comment.
"It looks to me like somebody dropped the ball on this one," Matulich told the Sun-News. "Why'd they tow the truck? Who towed the truck?"
Authorities said they didn't know what Page ate after she ran out of food, and they don't believe she set out for an extended stay in the forest when she initially set up camp.
"She is an experienced backpacker," search crew leader Dave Kuthe told AP. "She had adequate shoes...she just took a bag of pretzels with her."
The state's incident commander Levesque told AP that when Page arrived at Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City she was alert and articulate, and had lost about 25 pounds during her disappearance. Her cat, described as sluggish and thin, was fine. Page checked herself out of the medical center late Wednesday and spent the night at a local hotel before being reunited with her cat and her family on Thursday.