Police in Oregon say Sharon Ruth Bates, 52, was missing for almost a week when she was found alive yesterday near the small town of Cottage Grove, lying in a pit on top of a butte overlooking the western Oregon community.
The main break in the case came when police say Bates’ sister told them the missing woman occasionally liked to hike in the area.
“An initial report said she had gone to be with the Lord, so that’s why I hiked up to the top. It’s scenic and quiet, if you’re looking for solitude it would be the place to go,” Corporal Conrad Gagner with Cottage Grove police said to ABCNews.com.
Bates was found in a pit roughly 12 feet deep and 30 feet in diameter. That pit was the site of an old oil well, and may have been one of the reasons she survived.
“She stretched a plastic grocery bag over an old well head and collected rain water,” Cpl. Gagner said.
“Without that kind of expedient method for getting water, I don’t think she could have made it.”
Cpl. Gagner was one of the rescuers who found Bates. He said she was conscious and responsive when found, using an old wool coat as a blanket while lying on the cold ground.
Oregon was hit with a devastating snow storm at the end of last week, and police say Bates’ survival is even more incredible because of it. Five to six inches of snow fell the first night Bates was missing, and freezing rain started falling over the weekend.
Once Bates was in the pit, conditions worsened and she was unable to get out. When hours turned into days, she lost the strength and mobility to exit the pit on her own.
“I didn’t think it could be her at first, I was shocked to silence. I couldn’t believe she was alive,” Cpl. Gagner said, describing the rescue.
Detective Carlos Jones of the Cottage Grove Police Department was also there when Bates was found.
“If I were to put it all into one word I would say ‘surprised,’” Jones said to ABCNews.com.
“We went up as a recovery mission and it quickly turned into a rescue scenario.”
Because they weren’t expecting to find Bates alive, neither Cpl. Gagner nor Detective Jones had water with them – which was the first thing Bates asked for upon her discovery.
“I radioed one of our other officers to meet me at the bottom of the hill, and I ran down and ran back up to get her water,” Detective Jones said. Once they realized Bates was O.K., the situation quickly turned light.
“Towards the end of the rescue it appeared she was in good spirits, and there were moments of laughter,” Detective Jones said.
Bates is currently recuperating in an Oregon hospital, and officials say her condition is fair.