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Woman lost in Sierra Nevadas found; man remains missing in Alaska

Craig Medred

The difficulty of finding German adventurer Thomas Seibold -- lost somewhere in the vast, unroaded vastness of Alaska's northwest Brooks Range -- was underlined vividly by the rescue of a woman lost for six days in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. She was located by her brother after searches by authorities proved unsuccessful. Her story was big news both nationally and internationally. "Astonishing survival of US mother lost in wilderness for six days'' headlined the The Telegraph, a British newspaper.

Nevadan Paula Lane had gone four-wheeling with her California boyfriend Roderick Clifton in a newly purchased Jeep last week. The car got stuck. The weather turned snowy. The couple was trapped by snow in an area full of roads and trails just south of Lake Tahoe, a hugely popular tourist destination. Searchers went looking for the missing couple, but couldn't find them. Clifton eventually tried to hike six miles to a road and died along the way. The cause of death has not been reported.

According to the San Fransisco Chronicle, Lane waited three days in the Jeep before she decided she best go for help, too. The newspaper reported she "was found by her brother (Gary) as she crawled along a snow-covered dirt road where she and Clifton had gone on their drive. Her brother was driving a front-end loader to explore the road where he found her, the New York Daily News reported.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, quoted another relative of Lane saying she "(stayed) in a hollowed tree until rescued.'' 

Lane knew little about wilderness survival; Seibold is reputed to be an expert on it, but the area in which he has gone missing is the size of the state Washington and has no roads. The Alaska State Troopers spent six days searching for him by air without finding a sign. Friends launched another effort this month, but they found nothing either. They are now trying to get the National Park Service to expand the search in the vast Noatak National Preserve and the adjacent Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. And they are raising funds to try to launch an on-the-ground search, something difficult to do.

Seibold went missing about 40 miles from the nearest community. The nearest village of any size is more than 100 miles away to the west. Alaska's largest city is hundreds of miles to the south.

 

Lane crawled past her companion's dead body as she was trying to make it to safety, said Undersheriff Robert Levy, who said his office has pieced together a partial scenario of what happened leading up to Lane's rescue Wednesday:

Lane, of Gardnerville, Nev., and Clifton of Citrus Heights, Calif., were driving west on Highways 88 and 89 in Alpine County on Nov. 29 when Clifton spotted a cross-country ski hut near Pickett's Junction. He decided to pull off the highway to test out his Jeep Cherokee in the snow.

Clifton drove around a locked gate on a closed dirt road, and after driving a few miles became stuck in the mud. The next morning, Clifton decided to walk away from the Jeep and find help, ignoring Lane's pleas to stay.

On Saturday, Clifton's family in Citrus Heights told police that the pair had gone missing. Rescue crews began searching for the Jeep. Clifton did not return to Lane or reach help. After waiting three more days, Lane decided that she too had to leave the Jeep in hopes of being saved. Lane began half walking, half crawling along the road.

Knowing that his sister used to camp in the area, Lane's brother Gary Lane began searching for the pair. He borrowed a front loader on Wednesday and began exploring the mountain road, hoping he might find his sister and Clifton.

"Gary Lane drove up the road with the loader for several miles, where he found (his sister) distressed and crawling in the road," Levy said. "Gary Lane loaded Paula Lane into the bucket of the loader and returned her to Highway 88."

There he called rescuers, who began treating Paula Lane for hypothermia.

Paula Lane told police that she had crawled past Clifton's body as she tried to reach safety. Search and rescue crews returned to the area later Wednesday and found Clifton's body. The couple did not have cell-phone service in the remote area and were not properly dressed for the cold weather, Levy said.

Levy said it wasn't easy to say what the couple should have done once they became stuck in the remote area. "It is a tough one," he said. "Here's the best advice: To not get yourself put in a position where you have to decide to stay or go. And if you do, it is a personal choice."

Levy added, "It is not hard to put together a vehicle emergency kit. You can put it in a plastic tub from Walmart, for God's sakes. I'll always tell people that wool blankets are a godsend -- they'll keep you warm, they'll give you traction if you put them under the tires and you can cut them up as a bandage.

"When people panic," Levy said, "they don't make good decisions."

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