FRESNO — On Saturday morning, members of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team located 62-year-old Miyuki Harwood of Folsom, Sacramento County alive in an area east of Courtright Reservoir in the Sierra National Forest.
The woman heard rescuers in the area and blew a whistle to get their attention. Deputies found Harwood with injuries. A California Highway Patrol helicopter transported her to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, where she is listed in stable condition.
Harwood, a former resident of Orangevale, Sacramento County, was reportedly injured on Aug. 20 and remained in the same area until being found nine days later. She survived on water alone. Harwood would crawl down to a lake and scoop water into a bottle, which had a filter on it.
Harwood set out on her hiking trip on Aug. 18 Tuesday with a group from the Sierra Club in the Sacramento area. She did not know any of the people in the group; these were strangers who signed up to go on a trip together. She was last seen at 1 p.m. on Aug. 20. The other hikers left the area and deputies were not able to speak with them at length to learn more about Harwood’s abilities and what type of gear she was carrying.
Deputies were contacted by some of Harwood’s friends and family and learned that she is an experienced hiker. Although there was plenty of water in the area for her to drink, deputies were concerned about the rocky terrain and heavy smoke that she was exposed to from the Rough Fire, which was burning about 10 miles away.
SAR had approximately three dozen members searching various trailheads, which cover 100 square miles and have elevations ranging between 9,000 to 11,000 feet.
Sierra Club Program Safety Manager Todd Duncan said in a statement, “We are extremely thankful for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, all other supporting agencies involved, and the search and rescue staff and volunteers for their courageous and persistent efforts searching in remote country amid difficult conditions. Their good work is the mark of an expert, dedicated group of professionals that we want to acknowledge with respect and appreciation. We wish Ms. Harwood a speedy and safe recovery and our thoughts are with her family.”
At around 5 a.m. on Aug. 22, FSO received a call that Harwood became separated from her hiking group near Horsehead Lake, which is about 100 miles northeast of Fresno. Deputies spoke briefly with her fellow hikers to try and determine the location she was last seen. The CHP helicopter flew over the area, but the crew had difficulty seeing due to thick smoke from the Rough Fire.
SAR deputies and volunteers set up a command post at Wishon Reservoir. The team traveled 19 miles by foot and on horseback to the location Harwood was last seen, but they were unable to find her.
On Aug. 23, the Army National Guard deployed a Blackhawk helicopter into the search area, near Horsehead Lake. It carried additional sheriff’s deputies, part of the SAR team, as well as additional supplies designated for deputies already on the ground, making it unnecessary for them to retreat back to the command post to get more supplies. The smoke continued to get worse and hamper all aircraft crews from being able to see.
On Aug. 25, a helicopter was able to fly in and drop off two more search team members and additional supplies. The fire continued to move north and was closing in on the search area. Portions of the search area in the forest were closed to the public, and the Sheriff’s Office urged citizens not to take it upon themselves to join the search.
On Aug. 26, with the assistance of the California Office of Emergency Services and California National Guard, a Chinook helicopter and remote-controlled drone were involved in the operation. The helicopter deployed 25-30 more search team members, two search dogs and supplies. The drone fed in real-time video images to ground personnel. Visibility was much better as winds had cleared some of the smoke.
The FSO also received assistance from Kern County, Tulare County, San Luis Obispo County, Marin County, Contra Costa County, Monterey County, San Mateo County, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA).
The FSO encouraged hikers and campers to stay in areas with easy access to exit points. “Do not push the limits, which puts you in a dangerous situation.”