An elderly woman with dementia who disappeared last week was found alive Wednesday by Butte County Sheriff's deputies in a helicopter, after her SUV drove off the road in snowy conditions.
Paula Beth James, 68, was last seen in Oroville on January 9, and her family feared for the worst as the search effort for her extended into its sixth day on Wednesday. Rescuers, too, knew that time was running out after a total of 100 hours searching in the remote wilderness of Butte County using snowmobiles and helicopters.
Monday, 1/13/2020 update.- Paula James, age 68 of Oroville, is still missing. She was last seen Thursday, 1/9/2020 in Oroville. She suffers from a medical condition(s) and may have become disoriented. If you see Paula, please call 911.#ButteSheriff pic.twitter.com/8gKpu2b8oX— Butte County Sheriff (@ButteSheriff) January 13, 2020
But on Wednesday, deputies flying overhead spotted what might be James's Toyota 4Runner about 50 miles from Oroville, near the remote, mountainous community of Butte Meadows, as the Associated Press reports. Her car was about 150 yards off the roadway along Skyway Road, and the deputies hovered closer to see if the snow-covered vehicle seemed to match the description. It did, but no one came out of it as the copter hover loudly, so they assumed they might find James dead inside.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea describes the rescue process in the video interview below.
Deputies had to land the helicopter nearby and hike to the location of the car. There, they found an alert and alive Paula, albeit very chilly.
Her first words to them were, "I’m very cold, I hope you brought a blanket."
James had survived on some minimal sustenance she had in the car, and she was severely dehydrated. She had gotten into the backseat of the SUV, occasionally turning the car on for heat, and layering the car's floor mats on top of her for warmth. She had only jeans and a jacket on.
Dan Newman, who works for Butte County Search and Rescue, tells KCRA that finding James alive was a kind of miracle, and it was a "needle in a haystack" task given that "The vehicle had a lot of snow on top... [and] being a silver car, it doesn’t really have any contrast against the snow." Newman adds, "She was very excited to see us, and we were just as excited to see her."
Laura Powell, James’s stepdaughter, tells KTXL that her family is eternally grateful to the sheriff's department. "They want above and beyond and we really appreciate them for that."
James's neighbor tells the station, "I was shocked and really amazed. She’s a pretty tough, little lady."