JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Three Midwestern sisters who were missing for days in a rugged Wyoming wilderness area were found alive in a remote area and airlifted to safety Thursday.
Working on a tip from a backcountry guide, a helicopter spotted the three at about 10 a.m. in Bridger-Teton National Forest, about 15 miles southeast of the resort town of Jackson, said Lori Iverson, spokeswoman for the multiagency task force conducting the search.
They were cold and hungry but otherwise OK, she said.
The helicopter flew the sisters to a trailhead where their father was waiting while the search was conducted, Iverson said. Their mother was notified by telephone while on her way to Jackson.
Searchers had been looking since Tuesday for Megan Margaret Andrews-Sharer, 25, of Milwaukee; Erin Andrews-Sharer, 22, and Kelsi Andrews-Sharer, 16, both of Columbus, Ohio. The three were scheduled to be back in Chicago then after leaving for a backcountry excursion June 28, Iverson said.
The sisters were at the Jackson Hole Airport when their mother, Shirley Andrews-Sharer, arrived. In brief remarks, they thanked the rescuers, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported (http://bit.ly/1dP10BJ).
“We just want to give a shout-out to those guys,” Erin said. “You really can’t praise them enough for us.”
The sisters had experience in the backcountry so searchers were hopeful about finding them.
“They were well-prepared for the trip,” Iverson said. “They had the appropriate clothing. They had the appropriate gear.”
They also also stayed together.
“They stayed rational and utilized their experience,” Iverson said. “The problem, of course, with splitting up is if one person gets injured then that person has no assistance.”
However, they did not tell anyone where they were planning to hike, leaving officials uncertain where to start searching in the vast rugged area in and around Jackson Hole.
Earlier Thursday, authorities doubled the number of people combing the wilderness to more than 60, and they searched on horseback, on foot and with help from tracking dogs and two helicopters.
The sisters’ vehicle was found Wednesday at a wilderness trailhead popular for hiking. But people and wildlife have carved out many alternate trails that can confuse hikers, Iverson said.
“It’s very easy, even for experienced people, to get off-course and make a wrong turn,” she said.
Search and rescue officials declined to immediately discuss how the sisters became lost.
A search helicopter spotted the three about 7 miles from where they left their car.
Searchers directed the helicopter to the area after a guide called Thursday morning to say he saw a person in an area with no trails the day before. The sisters were found 20 minutes later.
“His accurate description of their location proved critical,” Iverson said.
Nate Suter, a guide for Trophy Mountain Outfitters, said he and another employee were clearing a trail to the company’s hunting camp Wednesday when he spotted one of the girls on a ridge nearly a mile away.
“I’m plumb tickled that’s where they were and I could help,” he told the News & Guide.
Suter noted the weather was stormy in the area where the sisters were.
“There were flash floods, and part of our trail got washed out,” Suter said. “I am very impressed they toughed it out last night.”
Friends of the family welcomed news of the sisters’ rescue.
“When there’s uncertainty, people are always worried,” the Rev. Susan Patterson-Sumwalt of the United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, said in a telephone interview.
“But there was this incredible trust and hope that the girls would be OK and found, both in people’s faith and in the knowledge of how strong and resourceful the girls are.”
Patterson-Sumwalt said the sisters worshipped at her church as children and Megan worked at the church until recently.