(LOS ANGELES) — Their rescue was described as a “miracle,” but two girls who were lost in the Northern California forest over the weekend said Monday that they depended on each other to survive and had faith that their daddy was coming to save them.
Leia Carrico, 8, and her 5-year-old sister, Caroline, spoke publicly for the first time, described how they got lost while walking on a deer trail and wandered past a fallen tree on their family’s 80-acre property that their father, Travis Carrico, warned them never to go beyond.
“Leia wanted a little, tiny more adventure. But I wanted more,” Caroline said of how their misadventure Friday afternoon started.
The girls were found on Sunday afternoon by two volunteer firefighters about 1.4 miles from their home in the rural Humboldt County town of Benbow. Travis Carrico estimated the girls had probably walked six miles before they were found.
Leia said that at one point, she and her sister realized they had walked in a giant circle because they noticed the same metal poles they had already passed.
“I wasn’t sure which way home was but it turned out that home was way back south,” Leia said.
Leia said she and her sister used Caroline’s rain jacket as shelter, cuddling together under a huckleberry bush to keep out of the pouring rain and to try to keep warm as nighttime temperatures dropped to 38 degrees.
Caroline slept a little, but I kept watch on both nights
“My sister cried the whole night,” Leia said of the first night they spent lost in the forest. “And I told her to keep happy thoughts of our family.”
Caroline said that as her big sister kept watch at night for wild animals, “I thought of going to the park with mommy and daddy. I thought of going to the ocean. I thought of everything but it didn’t work.”
“Caroline slept a little, but I kept watch on both nights,” Leia said.
The ordeal began about 2:30 p.m. on Friday when the girls asked their mother, Misty Carrico, if they could go on a hike to a “sunny spot.”
Misty Carrico said she was busy at the time, preparing a load of stuff to take to the dump. She said she noticed her girls missing about 3 p.m. and started screaming out their names, but they were nowhere to be seen.
“I felt awful, terrified and guilty,” said the mother.
Travis Carrico said that when his wife first called him, he didn’t panic, thinking the girls would be home soon.
But when he got home and they still hadn’t shown up, he said he got on his motorcycle and started driving all over his property looking for them.
The parents called the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, which immediately launched a search that grew into a massive search-and-rescue operation that drew more than 200 law enforcement and military personnel from throughout California, including two helicopter crews.
“I went through every emotion you could think of, everything from thinking it was a dream to balling up and crying,” Travis Carrico said of the ordeal.
His wife said her mind went to a “really dark place.”
“I wasn’t hopeful after the first night and it being 38 degrees and it pouring, pouring rain,” Misty Carrico said. “I constantly heard my kids screaming for help in my head.”
The girls survived two nights and most of Sunday morning with no food, huddled in a bush they called their “huckleberry home.”
Leia said they also used survival skills they learned on family camping trips, their participation in 4-H and from watching movies about people being lost.
“I know how to start a fire,” Leia said, explaining that she was attempting to start a brush fire but gave up when it suddenly got sunny.
Travis Carrico said that while searching for his daughters he came upon the brush pile Leia had built.
The key lesson the girls said they followed was to stay in one place once they realized they were lost.
The girls were found about 10:30 a.m. Sunday by Piercy, California, volunteer Fire Chief Delbert Crumley, and firefighter Abram Hill.
“We heard crackling and we thought we heard somebody say, ‘Dad,'” Crumley said. “And we called their names again and they said, ‘We’re right here.’ I think I was more excited than they were.”
About an hour after they were found safe and uninjured, Leia and Caroline were driven on all-terrain vehicles to meet their anxious parents.
A video of the reunion, posted online by the North Coast Journal newspaper, showed Travis Carrico scooping up his youngest daughter, Caroline, and hugging her tight, tearfully telling her, “I love you.”
“I was so worried about you,” Travis Carrico told Caroline. He did let her know she is “in so much trouble.”
When Leia arrived at the rendezvous site on another ATV, her mother quickly picked her up and hugged her as if she was never going to let go.
“The reunion was emotional,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal told ABC News on Monday. “Anyone who has a kid understands losing a kid for 10 minutes in the mall … [these] parents went through 44 hours of that and didn’t get any sleep and to finally see the kids safe and sound it was an emotional release, absolutely.”
The girls told authorities they didn’t take any food or fresh water with them on their misadventure, although rescuers said they found granola bar wrappers near their boot prints that led them in the direction of the children.
The girls told rescuers that they drank rainwater from the huckleberry leaves, which their parents taught them to do.
Honsal added that one of the best survival lessons the girls utilized was to stay put in their “huckleberry home” once they realized they were lost.
“Hypothermia could have set in, but they kept dry,” Honsal told ABC News. “That was the key thing for these girls.”
The girls said they heard a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter overhead searching for them and that they yelled for help but no one heard them.
When the girls heard Crumley and Hill yelling out their names, they answered back and were rescued.
“When our searchers found them … they were in good spirits. Rescuers were surprised. They were happy to see them,” said Honsal, who on Sunday described finding the girls safe and sound as “a miracle.”
The sisters were taken to a local hospital, where they were checked out and given pizza.
“As far as their appearances go, no scratches, they weren’t wet,” Honsal said. “They were smart enough to stay under canopies of tall trees and stay near tree trunks. They hiked all the way to the location and stopped when they knew they were lost. That was exactly what they were supposed to do. They looked like they were out for a stroll, like they were gone an hour from the house. They were anxious to see their parents.”
The girls said they will never go far away from their house again until they have a GPS tracker on them, which their mother has already ordered.
“I’m trying not to punish them,” Misty Carrico said. “They saved each other. I’m the proud mom. I raised super heroes.”
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