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When This Missing Hiker Was Found 7 Days Later, She Revealed The Terrifying Ordeal She’d Endured

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Dangling high above the treeline of the Great Bear Wilderness, Madeline Connelly shook with exhaustion and relief as she was winched into the waiting helicopter. Almost 300,000 acres of mountainous forest stretched out below her. Somehow, with no food or water or phone, alone except for her Jack Russell terrier, she’d survived.

Just one week earlier, the 23-year-old had been blissfully unaware of the ordeal awaiting her. Born and raised with three sisters just outside Chicago in the village of River Forest, Illinois, Madeline is a lover of the outdoors.

In fact, when the proposed North Dakota Access Pipeline threatened the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016, Madeline braved freezing temperatures to join the protest. At college in Arizona, meanwhile, she’d thrown herself into a three-week backpacking challenge, even exploring solo. Also no stranger to the state parks of Illinois, she’d happily camp out for days at a time.

Now, she was off to a new life working at a bakery in Alaska. On her way, though, she made a quick detour to go and see her uncle Marty in Montana. One sunny Thursday afternoon, then, she popped out to walk her dog Mogi along one of the local mountainous trails. However, she didn’t return, and when Marty and his friends found her Subaru Outback, it was empty.

One phone call and two plane flights later, then, and Madeline’s parents were in Montana, joining a search effort that would only grow in scope as the hunt for their daughter continued. “My gut feeling was that something’s not right,” her father John told the press. “It was just brutal because we knew she was out there in the wilderness.”

Other friends and family members also soon flocked to Montana, all faced with the task of combing more than 300 miles of winding trails in the Great Bear Wilderness. By the Saturday, in fact, 40 to 50 walkers and multiple helicopters were engaged in a full-scale search. What’s more, by the Monday the missing girl was national news.

However, the truth was that it didn’t look good for Madeline. Ranger Rob Davies, who co-ordinated the Forest Service’s efforts, admitted that “after six or seven days… knowing she didn’t have food or shelter in 32 °F temperatures, and some snow where she was, made survival very unlikely.”

Moreover, it wasn’t just the weather and the unfamiliar terrain that posed a threat to the missing girl’s survival. Indeed, the aptly named Great Bear Wilderness has one of the densest grizzly bear populations in the U.S. So, when search parties found bear tracks jumbled up with human boot prints, they feared the worst.

Nonetheless, Madeline’s family remained hopeful throughout the ordeal, holding vigils at the local St. Luke Catholic Church. They also reminded one another of Madeline’s survival skills, sang her childhood songs and remembered her smile, her thoughtfulness, her easy laughter.

Six days after Madeline had gone missing, however, hope was beginning to run low. Then the incredible happened. A search team exploring the steep, rugged terrain looked up to see a woman staring down at them from a rocky overcrop. “Are you looking for me?” she asked, breathless and with a woolly hat perched on her head. “The whole world’s looking for you!” they cried.

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►Image credits:
Image: Facebook/Madeline Connelly
Image: Chicago Tribune / Forest Service Northern Region
Image: Sam Beebe
Image: YouTube/Jim Pierce
Image: Leaflet
Image: Chicago Tribune

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