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SPANISH FORK — A 47-year-old woman thought to be missing after her car and camping equipment were discovered abandoned in November was found alive in Spanish Fork Canyon on Monday after a search and rescue team followed up on the case.
According to Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon, the woman was found living in a tent after a sergeant with the sheriff's office returned to the area with representatives of a nonprofit aerial search organization on Sunday to look for evidence that the woman was still in the Diamond Fork area.
The sergeant discovered the woman when he went to retrieve a drone that had crashed during the search, Cannon said. When the sergeant and the drone pilot walked into the hills to retrieve the drone they found a tent, which the woman who had disappeared in November opened as they approached.
Cannon said that the woman had lost a lot of weight and was weak. Officials believe she chose to remain in the area over the months. The woman told search and rescue officials that she "foraged for grass and moss to subsist, and had access to an ample supply of water in a nearby river."
Cannon pointed to the woman's resourcefulness for her survival. He said the conditions of the winter could be "very difficult to survive" with temperatures reaching well below zero. The woman had a tent, sleeping bag, and means to make a fire.
"Regardless of the fact that she was able to survive, it was a tough existence for those months that she was up there and we're glad we were able to make contact with her," said Cannon.
According to a statement from the Utah County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Forest Service officials found a car on Nov. 25 in the parking lot of a campground in the Diamond Fork area of the Spanish Fork Canyon during their seasonal canyon closure. The forest service also found some camping equipment abandoned nearby and some information that identified the person who had been camping there.
Search and rescue officials and deputies with the sheriff's office conducted a ground search but couldn't locate the woman. Telephone information indicated the woman might have been in Colorado, according to Cannon.
Deputies impounded the car and took the camping equipment for safekeeping while making several efforts to contact the woman's family without success, said the statement. Coworkers also did not indicate where the woman might have been, according to Cannon.
The investigation into her disappearance also revealed that the woman might struggle with mental health challenges, according to the statement.
After her discovery, the woman was taken to a hospital by deputies for a mental health evaluation. According to Cannon, resources have been made available to the woman if she decides to use them.
Cannon said that the woman had no physical injuries besides being weak and underweight.
"We want to be clear that while many people might choose to not live in the circumstances and conditions this woman did, she did nothing against the law," read a statement from the sheriff's office. "And in the future she might choose to return to the same area. Resources were made available to her should she decide to use them."
Due to the circumstances regarding mental health, the Utah County Sheriff's Office will not be releasing the woman's identity.