ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A woman who was missing for nearly a month in a New Mexico national forest was found emaciated Wednesday in a sleeping bag with her cat by her side, authorities said.
Authorities said Margaret Page, 41, took some food with her but ran out, and stayed alive by drinking water from a nearby creek. She fed her cat, Miya, with cat food she had packed.
She was located by a rescue crew in the Gila National Forest around a mile up the Railroad Canyon Trail in rugged area known as the Black Range of an isolated region of southwestern New Mexico.
That's where authorities believe Page, who authorities said has a history of mental illness, purposefully went hiking off a trail with her cat between Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 and set up a camp.
Dave Kuthe, search crew leader, told the Silver City Sun-News that Page was found malnourished but well-hydrated and sleeping in a blue sleeping bag.
"Her cat was in better shape than she was," Marc Levesque, incident commander with New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue, told The Associated Press. "Her cat was also hunting. (Page) ran out of food a while back."
Authorities aren't sure what Page ate after she ran out of food. Levesque said by the time she arrived at Gila Regional Medical Center she was alert and articulate. He said she lost about 20 to 25 pounds.
Lt. Robert McDonald, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Police, said members of the Grant County Search and Rescue and other crews began the search for Page on Tuesday after her family notified State Police that Page's car had been found in the Railroad Canyon Campground.
"When they called in at 9 and said we found her, my chin dropped and I said 'is she alive?'" Glenn Tolhurst, operations section chief for the search, told the newspaper. "They said 'she's alive. And she's got a cat.'"
The area where Page was found camping had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. It didn't see much rain or snow, but there were some high winds.
Page's vehicle, which McDonald described as a silver Chevy passenger car, had been originally spotted by a Forest Service law enforcement agent on Feb. 12 but authorities didn't think much of it since hikers leave vehicles near trails all the time.
A U.S. Forest Service agent noticed the car Feb. 25 but didn't contact state police until 10 days later. The vehicle was towed as crews began their search mission — something Robert Matulich, a field certified member of the Dona Ana County Search and Rescue team, said was unusual since crews sometime use vehicles to give the search dogs a scent to use.
"It looks to me like somebody dropped the ball on this one," Matulich told the Silver City Sun-News. "Why'd they tow the truck? Who towed the truck?"
Kuthe said Page checked herself out of Gila Regional Medical Center late Wednesday and spent the night in a Silver City hotel.
Levesque said she has been reunited with her cat.
In 2008, rescue crew found three adults and 14 children some 19 hours after they were reported missing during a school outing in the same area of the Gila National Forest. They were found safe and uninjured.
Associated Press researcher Monika Mathur in New York contributed to this report.
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- Gila National Forest