Two women who became lost this summer in the rugged wilderness northeast of Vallecito Reservoir gave thanks this week to the military team that saved them during a harrowing middle-of-the-night rescue.
Ronda Ramsier and Carol Powell delivered a suitcase full of homemade cookies and about 50 apple dumplings Monday to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
“Those guys were just wonderful, and they seemed thrilled that we came out to see them,” said Powell, who traveled from her home in Ohio to thank them.
The visit also offered some closure to Ramsier and Powell, who thought they were going to die on their second night of being lost.
“We couldn’t really move on with life until we had seen these guys,” Powell said during a phone interview after meeting with the crew. “We wanted to see them, we wanted to thank them, and wanted them to know we owe them our lives.”
The women set out about 4 p.m. Aug. 12 from their base camp in the Weminuche Wilderness for what they thought would be a short hike before dinner. Along the way, they spotted an alpine lake and decided to walk down to it. Then they couldn’t relocate their trail and grew increasingly disorientated as nightfall approached. They ended up spending two nights lost above 11,000 feet in elevation with little more than snacks, rain gear and two pack llamas.
On the second night, the two nurses experienced hallucinations, severe shivering and discussed what it would be like to die from hypothermia. Powell used her camera to record farewell messages to her family.
About 2 a.m. Aug. 14, they heard the roar of two helicopters hovering over a ridge. Powell used her $3 flashlight to signal the choppers, but they kept flying, as if they didn’t see her. About 4 a.m., one of the helicopters dropped a flare and lowered two men to the ground. The airmen found the women and walked them to a clearing where they were strapped into a harness, hoisted into the chopper and flown to Mercy Regional Medical Center.
They experienced no health impacts other than being cold, tired and hungry.
Ramsier, 60 at the time, has lived in the area for 19 years. She blamed herself for getting lost, saying she has a terrible sense of direction. Powell, 58 at the time, who is Ramsier’s cousin, was unfamiliar with the mountains or the high-country lifestyle.
On Monday, both women toured the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter that ferried them to safety. It also was a chance for them to exchange perspectives with the rescue team.
“We got an even clearer picture of what the rescue was like,” Ramsier said. “We were led to understand they had taken themselves to the very, very edge of what that helicopter was capable of doing. ... It was pretty exciting to hear their side of the rescue again and feel the enormous pride that they had in what they did.
“We just felt even more gratitude and awe about what happened, what an amazing rescue it really was,” Ramsier said.
Unfortunately, the llamas the women were hiking with – Chai and Dawson – had to be set free and remain missing, despite several return trips into the wilderness to look for them.