ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A woman who had been missing for nearly a month in a New Mexico national forest and who authorities said has a history of mental illness was found alive Wednesday in a sleeping bag with her cat by her side, authorities said.
Margaret Page, 41, was located by a rescue crew in the Gila National Forest around a mile up the Railroad Canyon Trail in rugged area known as the Black Range. That's where authorities believe where Page had purposely gone hiking off a trail with her cat between Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 and set up a camp.
Dave Kuthe, search crew leader, told the Silver City Sun-News said that Page was found malnourished and emaciated but well-hydrated and sleeping in a blue sleeping bag. Authorities said she stayed alive by drinking water from a nearby creek and fed her cat, Miya, with cat food she had packed.
"Her cat was in better shape than she was," Marc Levesque, incident commander with New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue, told The Associated Press. "Her cat was also hunting. (Page) ran out of food a while back."
Authorities aren't sure what Page ate after she ran out of food. Levesque said by the time she arrived to Gila Regional Medical Center she was alert and articulate after losing 20 to 25 pounds.
Lt. Robert McDonald, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Police, said members of the Grant County Search and Rescue and other crews began the search for Page on Tuesday after Page's family notified State Police that Page's car had been found in the Railroad Canyon Campground.
"When they called in at 9 and said we found her, my chin dropped and I said 'is she alive?'" Glenn Tolhurst, operations section chief for the search, told the newspaper. "They said 'she's alive. And she's got a cat.'"
According to weather.com, the area where Page was found camping had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. The area did not see much rain or snow, but Page was forced to endure some high winds.
Page's vehicle, which McDonald described as a silver Chevy passenger car, had been originally spotted by a Forest Service Law Enforcement Agent on Feb. 12 but authorities didn't think much of it since hikers leave vehicles near trails all the time.
However, a U.S. Forest Service agent noticed the car Feb. 25 but didn't contact state police until 10 days later. The vehicle was towed as crews began their search mission — something Robert Matulich, a field certified member of the Dona Ana County Search and Rescue team, said was unusual since crews sometime use vehicles to give the search dogs a scent to use.
"It looks to me like somebody dropped the ball on this one," Matulich told the Silver City Sun-News. "Why'd they tow the truck? Who towed the truck?"
Kuthe said Page checked herself out of Gila Regional Medical Center late Wednesday and spent the night in a Silver City hotel.
Levesque said she has been reunited with her cat.
Associated Press researcher Monika Mathur in New York contributed to this report.