ST. GEORGE — A woman who reported that she and her boyfriend were lost in the wilderness for three days after being discovered below a bridge in Mohave County, Arizona Wednesday triggered a search for her fellow hiker — until a discovery Thursday made authorities question the woman’s entire account of events.
Shortly after 4 p.m. MDT, troopers and emergency personnel were dispatched to I-15 near mile marker 22, a few miles south of the Cedar Pocket Exit, after a passerby called emergency dispatch reporting that a woman was found lying below the bridge with no shoes who appeared to be “in bad shape,” Trooper Thomas Callister with Arizona Department of Public Safety, said.
By the time responders arrived, they found the woman near the side of the interstate next to bridge number 7 “completely nude.” They learned she had crawled up from the bottom of the ravine, which was a 150-foot climb along a “sheer rock wall almost” minutes before they arrived, Callister said.
The sunburned hiker was battered, bruised and severely dehydrated when emergency personnel found her, and she was attempting to cover herself with a tattered piece of material before being loaded into an ambulance and transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center for treatment.
“She literally had scrapes and contusions all over her body,” Callister said. “Many of which had to have come from climbing up from the river.”
While being stabilized for transport, the woman explained to troopers that she and her boyfriend were hiking and swimming in the Virgin River “somewhere” in St. George three days before, and at some point, the two became disoriented as they floated down the river and had no idea where they were.
The two began hiking and the man walked up to higher ground “so that he could see where they were,” and she lost track of him, telling officers she last saw him on a ridgetop yelling for her.
Without shoes, clothes or food, the woman continued to hike and float down the Virgin River. She told officers that she lost her clothes, shoes and cell phone after leaving them on some rocks at the river’s edge. She also reported being hypothermic at times and suffering from overheating.
“When we found her, she was obviously disoriented, hungry and very dehydrated,” Callister said.
The woman provided police with an address for her partner, but when officers responded to the residence, they discovered he did not live there.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams were called in to conduct a ground search, while an Arizona DPS Helicopter was brought in and searched of the river by air, “where they found absolutely nothing,” the trooper said.
Troopers also learned that the woman, who was transported by ambulance, checked out of the hospital shortly after she arrived so they were unable to make contact with her to obtain more information to help with the search.
“Frankly, this is a strange story and nothing makes sense,” Callister said. “And right now, we are still trying to figure out exactly what happened.”
Searchers scoured the route of the Virgin River and surrounding area, as well as the helicopter crew that flew the span of the river and searched the entire gorge, he said, but found no trace of the missing hiker.
“We just wanted to find him and make sure he was okay, otherwise we had no trace of him even being out here,” Callister said.
The search for the missing hiker was called off once it became too dark to continue and was scheduled to resume the following morning.
The following day, authorities received information that called the entire incident into question when a vehicle the woman was traveling in was located west of St. George near the outskirts of Bloomington. Callister said when it was spotted by police, it appeared to have become stuck before it was abandoned in the desert.
As it turned out, the woman rescued from the side of I-15 by troopers in Arizona was reportedly in pursuit by officers late Monday night in Ivins, a chase that reached speeds of 100 mph, Santa Clara-Ivins Police Sgt. Reed Briggs said.
According to the report, it was the woman who was driving when the pursuit began, and no other occupants were listed. However, Briggs said, the officer never had the opportunity to speak to the driver or look inside of the car, because shortly after it started, the pursuit was terminated near the outskirts of Ivins.
“That’s not to say there wasn’t another occupant in the car,” Briggs said. “It’s just that the officer didn’t see one, and only observed a woman driving.”
He added that the officer never had a chance to see who was actually in the car at the time.
Briggs also said the officers in Santa Clara-Ivins had no other involvement once the pursuit was terminated late Monday and were not aware of any situation unfolding in the Virgin River Gorge until Thursday.
The vehicle was located abandoned near Bloomington, and the woman was located nearly 30 miles away, near mile marker 22 in Arizona, about 40 hours later, which is likely the reason she was found in the condition that she was, Callister said.
“She may not have been out there for three days,” he said. “But she was out there for a while and then made the climb up from the river where we found her.”
The investigation is ongoing as officers from multiple agencies continue to piece things together to determine what actually happened out there, Briggs said, because at this point, there are too many questions — one of which is whether there was a second individual involved or lost at all.
This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement.
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