Sometimes search and rescue stories have happy endings. Here’s one.
About 2:30 a.m. Monday, April 18, Lassen County Sheriff’s deputies received a report of a person possibly stranded in a remote area of Lassen County near Little Valley. The reporting party, Justin Lonich, 48, of Little Valley, told deputies he and his friend, Sheena Gullett, 52, also from Little Valley, were driving to Little Valley on dirt roads off of Highway 44 on Thursday, April 14. After driving several miles, their vehicle became stuck in the snow. They spent the night in their vehicle, and in the morning the vehicle’s battery was dead. They attempted to walk back to Highway 44, but Sheena began falling behind as the soles of her boots had come off. Justin continued walking ahead and soon they became separated. Justin went back to find Sheena, but because of heavy snowfall, he was unable to find her. Justin sought shelter and built a campfire. The next morning (Saturday), Justin continued walking until he came to a gravel road. He again sought shelter for the night. The next day (Sunday), Justin was able to reach Highway 44, where he hitched a ride into Susanville from a passerby, and he reported what happened and that Sheena was stranded in the forest, possibly with their vehicle.
Initially, details of this incident were unclear and made it difficult for sheriff’s office personnel to narrow down a search area. Justin was not familiar with the area and the roads they had been traveling on. From the time Justin reported this incident, sheriff’s deputies, sergeants, detectives, and U.S. Forest Service personnel conducted ground searches every day. On one day, when the weather was clear, the California Highway Patrol flew the search area in a helicopter in conjunction with a ground search team, but they were unable to locate the vehicle or Sheena. Further searches from the air were unable to be conducted due to inclement weather.
In the late morning of Wednesday, April 20, Justin rode along with a sheriff’s deputy in the search area to possibly help provide a better location of where he and Sheena became stuck in the snow. A sheriff’s sergeant, along with two U.S. Forest Service personnel, were also in the search area looking for Sheena. The sheriff’s sergeant and U.S. Forest Service personnel split up and searched along several different dirt roads. Around 3 p.m., after searching for several hours, the sheriff’s sergeant located the vehicle. Immediately upon his arrival, Sheena came out of the vehicle. She was very emotional, but physically OK. The sheriff’s sergeant transported Sheena to the Bogard Ranger Station to be evaluated by medical personnel. She related the same details as Justin did as to how they became separated. During the six days Sheena was stranded, she rationed a six-pack of yogurt, eating one per day. She did not have any water and had been eating snow. She saw the helicopter fly over a few days earlier, but because she was in a heavily wooded area, they were unable to see her.
The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office command staff commends the efforts of all personnel involved in searching for and locating Sheena. Through their efforts, Sheena was found safe and is now back home. Also, special thanks go out to the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service for their assistance.