Authorities found two young sisters unharmed Sunday morning almost 48 hours after they wandered away from their rural Humboldt County home, triggering a massive search that included helicopters, tracking dogs and help from law enforcement agencies across the region.
The girls, 5 and 8, were last seen outside the family residence in Benbow at about 2:30 p.m Friday. Earlier, they asked their mother if they could go for a walk. She said no and then couldn't find them, according to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office.
Family and friends scoured the nearby woods Friday afternoon before calling authorities, who combed the area through the night for Caroline Carrico and her older sister, Leia Carrico, but without luck.
Rescuers finally located the girls about 10:30 a.m. Sunday less than two miles south from where they live northwest of Sacramento. A fire captain and a firefighter from the Piercy Volunteer Fire Department made the discovery, finding what they believed were boot tracks belonging to the sisters around 8:30 a.m. Sunday and followed it, said William Honsal, Humboldt County Sheriff.
“They were dehydrated and they were cold, but they were well. That was our first concern,” he added, calling the find “an absolute miracle.”
The girls were given warm clothing and water and are getting medical check-ups, officials said at a news conference Sunday. “They’re in good spirits,” Honsal said, indicating that the sisters’ training in outdoor survival through a local 4-H club may have made a difference.
First responders interviewed the girls, who told them they had been walking along a deer trail when they got lost. But they decided to stay in one place, where they drank fresh water from huckleberry leaves.
“We could not have had a better outcome,” he said. “This has been unbelievable — all the help, everyone who came together.”
The intense search operation lasted 44 hours, coordinated in part by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and mobilizing more than 250 people. On Saturday, crews from Mendocino County, Napa County and Marin County sheriff’s offices joined the hunt for the girls amid occasional rain. Ten search teams from different agencies roamed the rugged, hilly area with support from the National Guards from Fresno, while the U.S. Coast Guard conducted aerial searches.
“This is what community is about. I think everyone identifies with the search for missing children and I think everyone wanted to help,” Honsal said. “The outpouring — everyone checked in with the command post, everyone calling — it was amazing.”
People drove from as far away as seven to eight hours to donate their services, he said, using their example to boost participation and recruit for search teams. “Every county has a search and rescue team” needing more volunteers, he added.
Officials said they tapped the “best investigators” in the state to lend their time to the search. One of the first clues came when sheriff’s personnel spotted signs of the girls' path: prints of their rubber boots and discarded granola bar wrappers that the children's mother recognized, according to Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Fridley.
“The wrappers showed us a direction from where they started to where the wrappers ended up,” he said, adding that he had the “privilege” of calling the children’s mother to share the good news.