PORTLAND, Ore. — Searches in the Oregon wilderness often have slim chances of success. The terrain is uniformly tough and rugged, with changes in elevation, steep drops and thick vegetation.
This is where Pamela Salant of Portland found herself for three days. While on a camping trip with her boyfriend at Bear Lake near Hood River, the 28-year-old art teacher walked off Saturday evening and somehow fell halfway down a rocky hill.
The fall broke a bone in her left leg and at least two bones in her back, and it left her with severe cuts on her legs. An avid outdoorswoman, she scooted down the hill and crab-crawled her way to a creek.
Over three days, she pulled herself through brambles, over rocks and to the water. She ate berries and shivered through temperatures in the 50s at night in a shorts and a tank top.
Then, on Tuesday, a spotter helicopter radioed in a sighting. Salant was sitting on a log, waving, but rescuers on the ground couldn't transport her out of the area.
Staff Sgt. Ben Sjullie, a medical officer on board an Oregon Army National Guard helicopter, was on a practice flight 25 minutes away. He and his crew changed plans, taking off northeast toward the thick woods of the Mount Hood National Forest.
"She was down inside a ravine, down next to the creek bottom in a real steep, wooded area," Sjullie said. "It was kind of challenge getting down where we were."
Sjullie (pronounced SOO'-lee) has run rescue missions before. The 32-year-old is used to picking up stranded hikers and climbers on Mount Hood, the towering edifice east of Portland.
But this was different. The thick tree cover presented an issue for the flight crew, which planned to hover above Salant and lower Sjullie in to scoop her up.
"This was my fist mission in a tight, enclosed area like this, which made it tricky," Sjullie said. "When I'm on the cable, pretty much my life is in the hands of the pilot and the crew chief."
Below him, the Crag Rats, an all-volunteer area search-and-rescue operation, had rappelled down a waterfall upstream from Salant and scrambled down steep boulders.
There they found Salant, dirty and bleeding but happy to be alive.
"She seemed pretty ecstatic to see us," said Asa Mueller of the search-and-rescue group. "She was shocked that we were out there, said a lot of thank you's."
She had crawled more than a mile from where she fell, staying close to the creek.
The search crew covered Salant in a blanket and lent her a jacket and hat. But getting her out of the area on foot would have taken more than two days' worth of daylight.
So Sjullie hooked himself into a "jungle penetrator," the search-and-rescue equivalent of a two-pronged ice cream scoop: A rescue team member sits in one scoop, the rescued person in the other, and the whole contraption is attached to a helicopter by a hook.
Sjullie descended, navigating through the treetops to get to the creek bed, where Mueller and the rest of the search crew nervously watched him dodge branches.
"Your biggest worry is that he gets hung up in a tree," Mueller said. "That hole the cable went down through couldn't have been much smaller."
Sjullie managed to land, load Salant onto a seat and signal to his crew, who pulled the pair back onto the helicopter.
Salant was taken to a Portland hospital, where she was upgraded to fair condition Wednesday.
At home in Portland, friends and co-workers celebrated news of Salant's discovery.
"She said she honestly wasn't that scared. She just knew she had to be found. She went into survival mode and didn't allow herself to panic," said her boss at a preschool, Desirae Marks. "It's a complete miracle."