Missing Meridian family rescued by National Guard helicopter

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by Bonnie Shelton

Bio | Email | Follow: @BonnieKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on October 2, 2013 at 9:11 AM

BOISE -- It was a tearful reunion Tuesday morning at Gowen Field, as a Meridian family was rescued after spending two nights in the freezing cold of the Elmore County wilderness.

The Rices are experienced outdoors people, regularly hunting in Idaho's backcountry. But even then, they said on that first night of being stranded, they weren't sure if they were going to make it out of there.

STRANDED

Heather and Steven Rice and their sons were scouting for deer on a day trip Sunday in the Elmore County wilderness.

"It was just pouring down rain," said Steven.

All that rain led to a heart-wrenching discovery on the road out.

"We turned around and came back and there was a huge mudslide," said Heather. "We could not get out."

"I was scared," said Andrew Rice, Heather's son. "We tried to move the mudslide but we couldn't do it. It was too big."

They were trapped in the forest in near-freezing temperatures with no cell phone service and less than a day's worth of supplies.

"We were kind of freaking out. Going, 'Oh, what are we going to do? How are we going to get out of here?'" said Steven.

"Scared. I mean, literally, that's the only word I can think of is that we were scared," said Heather. "We were in shock. I mean, we went through all the emotions, shock, depressed."

But, as they drove back down the road, they found something that they say could have saved their lives, a Forest Service guard station. The cabin was at Graham Bridge campground. That's in Elmore County near the North Fork of the Boise River.

"It was fully stocked," said Steven. "So, we just hunkered down there, started a fire and tried to stay warm."

RESCUE

To help any rescuers spot them, they spelled out the word "HELP" with logs they found. They also found white paint in the cabin, which gave the family an idea.

"We painted all the logs white so they stood out," said Steven.

On Monday night, an Idaho National Guard Apache helicopter did spot them, but couldn't carry them out, so they dropped more supplies.

"Oh my God, it was the biggest rush I've ever had!" said Heather.

A Blackhawk helicopter came back Tuesday morning, and brought them home.

REUNION

Dozens of family and friends couldn't wait to see the Rice family and hold them in their arms.

They say the last 36 hours were emotionally exhausting, but it all ended in the best way possible.

"I don't even know what time it was," said Jody Rice, Steven Rice's mother.

Jody hadn't gotten much sleep in the last two days.

"I just can't wait to see them," she said.

As soon as the Blackhawk helicopter came into view at Gowen Field, there were tears of joy. Once it landed, and the Rice family got out, there were lots of hugs.

"The tears just came, just rushed down," said Heather.

"I love you so much," said Jody.

"I love you too," replied Heather.

It was a family happy to be reunited and thankful everything worked out.

"We got lucky," said Steven.

Idaho National Guard public affairs officer Col. Tim Marsano says the family did everything right. They stayed calm and used what they could find to show crews where they were located.

"I wish that I could say that every search and rescue operation we mount in the Idaho National Guard works out as well as this one," said Marsano. "Sadly, it doesn't work out that way. So when we see something like what we see today, we're elated. This is fantastic."

Now that they are home safe, the Rice family said they are looking forward to a hot shower and a steak dinner.

"Just joy, I'm happy to be home," said Steven.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN 

Heather said she was especially happy to see the Idaho National Guard helicopter, because she knew the government shutdown could be coming and wasn't sure they'd be available. However, rescue services will not be affected by the shutdown.

Meanwhile, the Rice's truck is still in the forest because the mudslide hasn't been removed. The Forest Service will be working with the family to remove it, but again, because of the shutdown, they don't know when that will be.

Watch the raw video of the reunion:

 

 

 

 

 

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