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KIRO 7 Seattle

10-year-old girl found alive after spending night in rugged mountains near Cle Elum

By Deborah Horne,


An emotional rescue took place after a 10-year-old girl went missing in a rugged area east of the mountains.

Rescue teams from at least seven counties fanned out across the Cathedral Rock Trail in the northern Cle Elum River Valley on Sunday.

After searching for more than 24 hours, they found the King County girl on Monday a mile and a half from where she was last seen. She was alive.

That was largely because of a special tracking unit that worked to figure out where she might be.

The rescue took special training and a special amount of concern. The rescuers were really afraid for this little girl so they threw everything they had at the situation to try to find her.

It was a massive response, rescue crews from across the region and beyond, searching for about 24 hours for a 10-year-old girl none of them knew.

“We’ve got helicopters, drones, dogs, four-by-fours just amazing amounts of training and energy that have gone into this search,” said Kittitas County Sheriff’s Inspector Chris Whittsett.

That’s mainly because they were worried the icy cold, fast-moving Cle Elum River had swept the child away.

“And so we were prepared for a potentially very terrible result,” he said.

Inspector Whittsett credits the rescue to the Washington State Search and Rescue Planning unit.

They not only helped plan a complex search like this one in the rugged Cathedral Rock area, he said, “but also with a tremendous amount of experience and research into the behavior of lost persons. They direct the ground teams. You don’t just start and go willy-nilly. It’s a strategic and planned event.”

And they were desperately needed. Overnight, the 10-year-old had somehow managed to travel a mile and a half from where she was last seen.

A pair of ground team volunteers found her downstream along the Cle Elum, miraculously alive “with only minor scrapes.”

“This is a total vindication of the drive to keep this kind of call a rescue as long as you possibly can,” said Inspector Whittsett.

And she had to spend the night.

“She did,” he said, smiling. “She must be a tough little girl.”

Indeed, she must be.

According to the Kittitas County Sheriff, the girl said that she was “suddenly separated and alone” while her family was walking back toward a footbridge over the river. She eventually hiked herself “downstream through the dense forest and spent the cold night between some trees.”

“She said she knew it was the right thing to follow the river,” the sheriff’s department said. “She proved an extraordinarily resourceful and resilient 10-year-old.”

She was there with about 30 members of her family. We can only imagine the joy they are feeling right now.

Whittsett’s advice, “Be careful in our wild places. They are beautiful but can be dangerous, too. But this had the best end possible, a young girl was found alive.”

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