Cell phone, notes, rocks: Woman uses whatever she can to get rescued from Arizona wilderness

Posted at 10:07 AM, Mar 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-23 10:07:03-04

The handwritten note had a simple plea: “Please stop.”

“I’m out of gas, stuck here,” it continued, in black ink. “I started following the road East to see if I can get cellphone signal.”

The note, along with rocks that spelled out “HELP,” were among items rescuers used to locate Amber VanHecke, 24, after five days in the Arizona wilderness.

Her preparation and quick-thinking, trooper paramedic Edgar Bissonette said, were crucial to her survival.

“She had food and water in her vehicle for the trip. Even though she was down to her last bit of water, it kept her going,” Bissonette said.

“When she left the vehicle, she left notes so we knew where to find her. She did everything right.”

Trip gone wrong

VanHecke, who lives in Texas, was driving in the Havasupai Reservation on March 12 when her car ran out of gas, officials said.

Five days later — on March 17 — the Arizona Department of Public Safety got word from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office about a 911 call from a woman who said she had been stranded for five days near the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

The call dropped before authorities could pinpoint her location.

“Using their knowledge of the area, deputies from the sheriff’s office and troopers with the Air Rescue unit determined a likely area where the victim could be,” the department said.

During an air search, the rescue crew spotted her vehicle, along with rocks that spelled out “HELP.”

Stranded woman nowhere to be found

But when the helicopter landed, no one was there.

Instead, rescuers found the note explaining that VanHecke had started walking east in search of a cell phone signal.

Rescuers rushed back to the helicopter and flew in that direction.

They scanned the ground — and saw VanHecke, furiously waving to get their attention.

“Her food was gone, and she had almost run out of water when found by the Ranger helicopter crew,” the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Wednesday in a statement.

“She was treated at the scene for exposure, placed in the helicopter, and transported to the trauma center in Flagstaff.”

VanHecke in a message posted to Facebook said she was doing well after the ordeal.

“I guess I got to cross riding in a helicopter off of my bucket list,” she said.