Rescuers spot HELP sign as woman, 72, wanders Arizona backwoods for 9 days
A 72-year-old woman said Tuesday that her "wisdom and memories" helped save her as she wandered for nine days in the Arizona wilderness while authorities frantically searched for her.
Ann Charon Rodgers and her dog were found late Saturday afternoon in the Canyon Creek area of the White River Indian Reservation, the state Department of Public Safety and the Gila County Sheriff's Office said. Authorities said Rodgers got stranded March 31 on a remote back country road while driving to Phoenix to visit her grandchildren.
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"What I feel like is a survivor," Rodgers told reporters Tuesday. "How stupid could I be?"
Rodgers ran out of gas and became disoriented, and for the next nine days, she and her rescue dog, Queenie, wandered the area looking for help, officials said.
As the days dragged on and no one came to help, "I just moved as fast as I could," she said.
"If I couldn't do that, I crawled," she said. "If I couldn't do that, I sat on my butt and crawled."
Rodgers said she pondered her possible death in the wilderness, concluding: "All right, if this is the end — if this is it — at least I'm going to die in the most natural beautiful cathedral I have been in in a long time."
"And then I thought, 'No, I ain't giving up yet," she said.
During the search, an aerial search crew spotted a distress signal that Rodgers had built spelling out "HELP!" in sticks and rocks on the canyon floor, authorities said. A handwritten message under the rocks, dated April 3, indicated that Rodgers was out of food and water and was venturing into the canyon. Her abandoned car was found later the same day.
On Saturday, a White River Tribal Game and Fish officer found Rodgers' dog walking out of the Canyon Creek area, authorities said, and Rodgers was eventually found standing next to a signal fire trying to wave down the search helicopters.
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"Old people are thought of as not always as able to do things as others, which is true in many ways," Rodgers said Tuesday. "However, because we age, wisdom [and] memories become part of your knowledge base that help you survive."
Rodgers was treated for exposure at a hospital in Payson, Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd said. Asked Tuesday whether she still planned to go visit her grandchildren, she whispered, "You better damn well believe it."