Sheriff questions account of how missing hiker survived for two weeks

Matt Mathers
Woman could not have survived on river water for two weeks, says Sgt Darrell Cashin (ABC 4)
Woman could not have survived on river water for two weeks, says Sgt Darrell Cashin (ABC 4)

A Utah sheriff's sergeant involved in the rescue of Holly Suzanne Courtier - a California hiker found in Zion National park almost two weeks after going missing - has questioned her family's account of how she disappeared and managed to stay alive with no food or water.

Ms Courtier, a 38-year-old resident of Woodland Hills, was found on 18 October - 11 days after she first went missing while on a "dream" hiking excursion. Her family say she went to Utah after losing her job as a nanny due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Courtier's daughter said earlier this week that her mother hit her head early in the hike and decided to stay close to a river, thinking it was her best chance to say alive.

Sgt Darrell Cashin, who aided the rescue effort, has now questioned the family's story. He says that Ms Courtier departed California for Utah in the middle of the night without telling anyone.

Sgt Cashin, who works for the sheriff's search and rescue unit in Washington County, says Ms Couriter could not have survived by drinking river water.

"If she had been drinking that water, unless she had some really high immune system, she would've been very, very ill and probably unable to come out on her own," he told ABC 4.

"She either took a lot of water with her or had another clean water source that was near here, but the Virgin River is not that source."

Sgt Cashin's allegations come after Ms Courtier's family set up a GoFundMe page to help with pay the medical costs of treating her alleged head injury. On Thursday, the campaign had raised some $12,000.

Neither the park nor Ms Courtier's family said what kind of condition she was in when rangers found her on Sunday.

Sgt Cashin said the family's claims of a head injury did not appear to match up with the condition she had been found in.

He told St George News: "Was she that bad or was she not? If we had found somebody in that condition with that kind of severe head injury, we would have at minimum called for a transport agency to check her out.

"The fact that that didn't happen tells me that they did not find any significant injury to her that would've prompted them to do that."

"The statements that the family is giving and the statements that the park is giving don't add up," he added. "Those are the types of questions I think everybody has. I think the place where that question can be answered is with her."

Described as an experiencer hiker, Ms Courtier went missing on 6 October. She was last seen getting off a shuttle van near the Grotto area of the park, which leads to several of the park's hiking trails.

However, she did not get back for her return journey, which was scheduled for later that day. Park officials then launched a rescue operation after Kailey reported her mother missing.

With assistance from multiple agencies, the team used drones and a K-9 unit to locate Ms Courtier.

"[We] would like to thank Washington County Sheriff’s Office...the Grand Canyon National Park Emergency Service Team, Bryce Canyon National Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area Park Rangers, and all the staff and volunteers that provided support for this search and rescue effort," Zional National Park said in a statement.

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