Woman rescued after 3.5 weeks in NM forest

Margaret Page was found by members of the Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue team

Las Cruces Sun-News 

SILVER CITY, N.M — A 41-year-old Albuquerque woman missing for 3 1/2 weeks in the Gila National Forest was found by search and rescue teams after about an hour of searching Wednesday just after 9 a.m.

Margaret Page was found by members of the Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue team about one mile up the Railroad Canyon Trail in the Black Range, where she had gone hiking with her cat sometime between Feb. 10 and 12. She was transported by ambulance to Gila Regional Medical Center, malnourished and emaciated but well-hydrated, according to Dave Kuthe, who was the incident commander for the search. Kuthe said Page checked herself out of the hospital later Wednesday and spent the night in a Silver City hotel.

"When they called in at 9 and said we found her, my chin dropped and I said 'is she alive?'" said Glenn Tolhurst, operations section chief for the search. "They said 'she's alive. And she's got a cat.'"

Page, who was inside a blue sleeping bag about 20 to 25 yards from the trail when she was found, had probably been drinking water from a nearby creek and feeding Miya, her cat, with the cat food she had brought with her, according to Kuthe. Search and rescue team members spotted her in the sleeping bag and, after assuring her that the cat would be taken care of, loaded Page, while still in the sleeping bag, into the litter.

"I would think a blue sleeping bag like that would stand out," said Tolhurst.

Kuthe said Page had lost about 25 or 30 pounds, but when he saw her at the hospital she had been lucid and articulate. On the other hand, Miya, who was looked after by a search and rescue team member while Page was in the hospital, was only what Tolhurst described as "a little sluggish and a little bit thin." Page was expected to pick Miya up on Thursday.

The search operation was handled by 27 individuals and two dogs who were part of several area search and rescue organizations, including Masilla Valley Search and Rescue, Grant County Search and Rescue, Doca Ana County Search and Rescue, Organ Mountain Technical Rescue Squad, BORSTAR and the Forest Service. It was activated Tuesday night after Page's family notified State Police that Page's car had been found in the Railroad Canyon Campground, according to Lt. Robert McDonald, PIO for the New Mexico State Police.

Page's vehicle, which McDonald described as a silver Chevy passenger car, had been originally spotted by a Forest Service Law Enforcement Agent on Feb. 12. That was two days after Page had left Albuquerque after telling her family she was going to Florida and two days before Page's mother filed a missing person's report with the Albuquerque Police Department on Feb. 14. However, according to Kuthe, the agent didn't think anything of the vehicle, since hikers often leave their vehicles parked for days while they camp.

On Feb. 25 the Forest Service agent noticed that the vehicle was still there and verified that it belonged to Page. However, it was unclear why the State Police weren't notified until 10 days after that.

According to Robert Matulich, a field certified member of the Dona Ana County Search and Rescue team and the Organ Mountain Technical Rescue Squad, Page's vehicle had been towed when the search and rescue teams arrived on the scene - unusual since team members sometime use vehicles to give the search dogs a scent to use.

"It looks to me like somebody dropped the ball on this one," said Matulich. "Why'd they tow the truck? Who towed the truck?"

Forest Service officials referred calls to New Mexico State Police, who didn't have information regarding the towed vehicle. The Forest Service didn't return further calls for comment.

Kuthe said that Page connected with her family, who drove from Albuquerque, on Thursday.

Copyright 2012 Las Cruces Sun-News, a MediaNews Group Newspaper
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