When Amber Vanhecke's GPS sent her on a wrong turn near the southern rim of the Grand Canyon last week, she quickly found herself lost in "increasingly tough" terrain. Speaking with ABC News Thursday about her ensuing five days alone in the desert, Vanhecke revealed she first felt "true panic" after a 911 call was dropped and her car ran out of gas.
"I planned out my itinerary, had it posted on Facebook and stuff and off I went with some non-perishables and water," Vanhecke, a college student from Texas, said of her planned spring break sightseeing excursion. Citing previous solo travels through Yellowstone and Yosemite, Vanhecke is described as an "experienced" outdoor adventurer.
Vanhecke, who survived on a supply of food and water she had packed in her vehicle, first tried to enlist help by making an SOS sign and using a signal fire. "I felt very disconnected from just everything and everyone," she said. On her fourth day stranded in the desert, a truck passed her path but failed to stop. On the fifth day, however, Vanhecke started "feeling pretty hopeful" about a rescue. After embarking on a hike away from her vehicle in search of cell service, Vanhecke was finally able to get through to a 911 operator roughly 11 miles into the journey and was eventually picked up by a rescue copter on Mar. 17.
In a news release Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Vanhecke, 24, was treated at the scene for exposure. "She was smart and prepared," Edgar Bissonette, a trooper paramedic and crew member, said. "She had food and water in her vehicle for the trip. Even though she was down to her last bit of water, it kept her going. When she left the vehicle, she left notes so we knew where to find her. She did everything right."