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updated: 10/8/2013 10:54 AM

Ark. reporter survives days lost in Texas park

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  • Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Cathy Frye remained in an El Paso, Texas, hospital Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, one day after she was airlifted by helicopter to safety from Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas.

      Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Cathy Frye remained in an El Paso, Texas, hospital Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, one day after she was airlifted by helicopter to safety from Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas.
    Associated Press

  • Arkansas Democrat-Gazette photographer Rick McFarland used his camera to help locate his car and drive for help after becoming lost in Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas with his wife, fellow journalist Cathy Frye.

      Arkansas Democrat-Gazette photographer Rick McFarland used his camera to help locate his car and drive for help after becoming lost in Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas with his wife, fellow journalist Cathy Frye.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

DALLAS -- Cathy Frye could go on no longer.

She and her husband, Rick McFarland, decided that he would set out in Texas' remote Big Bend Ranch State Park to find help, leaving her behind. For two more days, she waited it out, using a small tree for shade.

McFarland was able to find his car, drive to a ranger's station and help launch a search-and-rescue operation that found Frye on Sunday. She remained hospitalized two days later, but in good spirits as she recovered from severe dehydration.

It was the type of ordeal typically covered by Frye and McFarland, who met and still work together at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper in Little Rock.

Their skills came in handy. Frye, an award-winning writer who has covered disasters such as the 2010 flooding at an Arkansas campground that killed 20 people, told the newspaper she had read about trying to stay in place during the hottest points of the day.

McFarland, a staff photographer for two decades, would use his camera to locate his car and drive for help.

He shared the good news with friends in a text message that read in part: "I've not seen her yet, but overjoyed is nowhere near how I feel."

Rescuers found Frye, the 43-year-old mother of two children, in a dry creek known as an arroyo. She had taken off her clothes, was severely dehydrated, and had sunburn, bruises and cactus thorns all over her body, the newspaper reported.

The partial federal government shutdown had forced Frye and her husband out of their original destination, Big Bend National Park, on Tuesday. The couple was familiar with that remote park on the U.S.-Mexico border, having been married there in 2001 and visited every year since. But they took a local employee's advice and went west to Big Bend Ranch State Park, which was still open.

The couple arrived Wednesday and headed toward a popular hiking trail. But Frye and McFarland, 58, overshot their mark and spent that night near a scenic overlook, tired and out of water, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

They found the right trail the next day, but then lost it again. While resting, Frye accidentally left behind a fanny pack containing food. That night, the couple slept in wet clothes and with no material to start a fire.

On Friday, they decided McFarland should carry on toward their truck and get help.

McFarland eventually found a ridge with a sweeping view. He took a photo with his camera and zoomed in on his viewfinder -- eventually spotting a truck. That helped him find the parking spot where he had left their vehicle.

More than three dozen people would join the search for Frye, including U.S. Border Patrol agents and the Texas Department of Public Safety. By Saturday, news that she was missing had gotten back to Little Rock.

Amy Upshaw Webb, a close friend and former colleague of the couple, said she took comfort in knowing that Frye was a seasoned reporter who had covered major disasters.

"She's a preparer," Webb said. "If anybody could be prepared for something like this, I'm sure Cathy at one time or another read about this type of situation."

After she was found, game wardens cleared brush to make room for a helicopter to land. She was eventually flown by private plane to El Paso.

David Bailey, managing editor of the Democrat-Gazette, received the text message from McFarland after noon Sunday. He said his staff's collective mood went from "really, really somber to ecstatic in a heartbeat."

"I think we're all just exhausted now, but it's happy exhaustion," Bailey said.

Frye joined the newspaper in 1999 and is a past winner of the Livingston Award given to journalists under the age of 35. McFarland joined the staff in 1992.

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