Many prayers were answered when three missing sisters were found alive in the Wyoming wilderness Thursday.
Megan, Erin and Kelsi Andrews-Sharer were spotted by helicopter in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the morning after they were reported missing by their parents, Eric and Shirley Andrews-Sharer of Lewis Center.
“The hikers were cold, wet, and hungry but otherwise healthy, having spent several nights in the back country,” said a statement from the Teton County sheriff’s office. “Their experience and planning allowed them to be prepared for their unexpected situation. By staying together, using their tent, and having proper clothing, they were able to wait out the event without further incident.”
The sisters were found seven miles west of the trail head where their 2008 Saturn SUV was parked. They were backpacking in the remote area, 25 miles south of Jackson, a town in the northwest part of the state. The Forest Service said they were found “near the top of the divide between Horse Creek and Little Horse Creek in the Gros Ventre Wilderness.”
The area is said to be heavily forested, and a home to bears, with cliffs and mountains over 11,000 feet high. Heavy rains were reported recently.
Megan, 25, recently of the Milwaukee area; Erin, 22, a recent graduate from the College of Wooster; and Kelsi, 16, who will be a junior at Olentangy High School were overdue from a backpacking trip that began June 30 in the Teton National Park area. They were expected to return to their car by July 5; but hadn’t contacted their parents on July 6 or met their mother in Chicago on July 7. They had packed food for five days.
The vehicle was located shortly after the notification that they were missing. A cellphone was found in the vehicle that had searches of an area they may have been heading to. A search team of 60 people, along with dogs, horses and two helicopters, covered a 150-square-mile area. They were out as late as 2 a.m. and resumed the search at daylight.
“It’s very easy, even for experienced people, to get off course and make a wrong turn,” said Lori Iverson, spokeswoman for the search team. “So we simply suspect that the girls made a wrong turn and are looking for an egress out, maybe ending up in a location other than where their vehicle was.”
A permitted guide had seen one of the sisters in an area with no trails, and upon hearing there was a search underway, called the sheriff’s office. The search team redirected the helicopter, and the sisters were soon spotted.
“We’re so pleased with the outcome of this search and the safety of the missing hikers and all the rescue personnel,” said Sheriff Jim Whalen.
A Squarespace website devoted to finding the sisters stated: “The girls were found by search teams and are in a helicopter on their way back to civilization to reunite with the family. They are OK, we have no other news beyond that for now. Thank you again to friends and family for support, and again we please ask for respect and privacy from media.”
Just hours after the sisters were reported missing on social media, prayer vigils were held Wednesday at the Whitefish Bay United Methodist Church in Wisconsin and Grace Point Community Church in Lewis Center. About 300 people gathered at Grace Point for the service.
Pastors Ryan Smith and Tom Houser provided opening and closing prayers, and Aaron Zink sang and played “How Great is Our God,” concluding with the refrain from “How Great Thou Art.” Many sang along, and there was a group hug.
Friends also prayed aloud for the sisters’ safe return. One mentioned Psalm 121, which says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip …”
One of Kelsi’s teachers praised her for being smart, talented and a hard worker. Others said Kelsi, a year-round athlete, had perseverance and wouldn’t give up. Another person said, “I only know one of them, but if they are anything like Kelsi, then they are quite remarkable young women.”
Note: This story included information from ABC; The Associated Press; Columbus Dispatch; Jackson Hole News & Guide; Minneapolis Star Tribune.Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak. This story included information reported by ABC; The Associated Press; Columbus Dispatch; Jackson Hole News & Guide; and Minneapolis Star Tribune.