The 47-year-old woman, whose name was withheld, was first reported missing on Nov. 25, 2020, in the Diamond Fork area of Spanish Fork Canyon after a U.S. Forest Service official found an abandoned car in a campground parking lot, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release on Monday.
Officials wanted to notify the woman about the seasonal canyon closures but found no sign of her. They found camping equipment and information that helped identify the missing woman.
Search crews responded and combed the area on foot and by air but still could not locate the woman.
Deputies impounded the car and took the camping equipment, believing they were abandoned.
Investigators worked over the next several months trying to contact those who might know the woman to learn her possible whereabouts. While attempts to contact her family were unsuccessful, detectives spoke to her coworkers and learned that she might struggle with mental health.
The woman’s whereabouts remained unknown until Sunday when a USCO sergeant returned to the area of Diamond Fork with members of a nonprofit aerial search group to continue looking for signs of the missing woman, the sheriff’s office said.
But the drone being used to search for evidence crashed during its first pass of the area, forcing the sergeant and drone pilot to set off on foot to retrieve it. As the pair walked into the hills, they spotted what appeared to be an abandoned tent.
Shortly after finding the tent, the missing woman emerged from inside, the USCO said.
The woman “had lost a significant amount of weight and was weak,” according to the sheriff’s office. “But she was apparently also resourceful.”
While she had a small amount of food with her, the woman told officials that she foraged for grass and moss and used the nearby river as a water supply.
“And we now believe she knowingly chose to remain in the area over the months since November 2020,” the release said.
Officials said the woman was taken to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation and resources were made available to her should she choose to use them.
“But 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,” the sheriff’s office said. “And in the future she might choose to return to the same area.”