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Time was running out for woman lost in woods

For 13 days, 76-year-old Doris Anderson wandered in a ravine in the wilds of Oregon. She tells TODAY how she survived in an exclusive interview.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

For 13 days, 76-year-old Doris Anderson wandered in a ravine in the wilds of Oregon. She was frightened. She was hungry. She was freezing cold.

Armed with nothing more than prayer and hope, she knew only that she had to survive.

“I was scared, but I had to keep on going,” she told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira in an exclusive interview — her first since her ordeal. “I couldn’t give up. I kept moving … [to] see if I could find where my husband was. When I got thirsty, I drank, but there wasn’t much out there to eat. I got a little weak, but I just kept on going.”

Many have called her survival miraculous, and she agrees.

Asked what role faith plays in her life, she replied, “Everything. I have faith in God, I have faith in prayer, and I prayed and others prayed for me, and I think that’s the reason I was found. I am a miracle.”

It began as a bow-hunting trip on Aug. 25 in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon with her husband, Harold Anderson, 75. The following day, when their SUV got stuck on a dirt track of a road, they started to hike out to the main road. When Doris Anderson felt she was too tired to go on, her husband sent her back to their truck while he went on.

Harold Anderson broke his wrist and hurt his leg on the way out and was rescued on Aug. 27 by hunters. When authorities went to the truck to get his wife, she wasn’t there.

She doesn’t really remember what happened — she spent a long time in therapy after her rescue recovering her mobility and her memory.

“I remember being at the truck with my husband and then things going wrong and then going out to find help, but his arm was broken,” she told Vieira from her home in Sandy, Oregon. “That’s where all this turmoil began. I got lost somewhere.”

Unschooled in survival techniques, she tumbled into a ravine, injuring her shoulder and hip. As search parties using helicopters and thermal imaging equipment spread out in a vain effort to find her, Doris Anderson did what she had to do to stay alive.

After four days, the search was called off. Overnight temperatures were dropping into the 30s, and she had been dressed only in light clothing. In the meantime, authorities turned their attention to Harold Anderson, believing that he may have killed his wife and made up the story about her being lost.

“I’ve never been questioned like that my whole life,” Harold Anderson told Vieira. When he insisted he had left his wife to go back to the truck, they said he was lying. “One said, ‘No, you didn’t. You dumped her off and drove off.’”

He didn’t blame the sheriff’s deputies for being tough with their questions. “That’s their duty,” he said. “We’re just like brothers now, every one of those sheriff’s deputies.”

As the days stretched into a week and beyond, the couple’s two adult daughters accepted what they thought was the inevitable and planned a memorial service for their mother.

Harold Anderson told them he wouldn’t attend because he didn’t believe she was dead.

Time running out
Meanwhile, Doris Anderson continued to wander around the ravine, unable to climb out.

“There was a little creek” — she pronounced it “crick” — “so I drank water out of the crick. I ate berries and just wandered around trying to get back to where my husband was,” she said.

Early on, she saw a bear and made sure to keep her distance. She lost her shoes, and at night huddled without covering or a fire, shivering against the cold.

Although the official search had been called off, Baker County Sheriff’s Deputy Travis Ash and Oregon State Police Trooper Chris Hawkins believed Harold Anderson and decided to go out on Sept. 6, their day off, to see if they could find Doris Anderson. While searching on ATVs, they saw ravens circling overhead.

They rode to where the birds were gathering and found Doris Anderson, lying in the ravine about a mile off the road. She was dehydrated, disoriented, had frostbitten toes and was drifting in and out of consciousness. When they got her to a hospital, her internal temperature was 90 degrees.

“I was amazed,” Doris Anderson said when asked her reaction to seeing rescuers. “I think I was getting very weak by then. They found me just in time to save me. I’m kind of glad the ravens were there to help.”

She didn’t hold it against her daughters for planning her funeral a bit prematurely. “I wasn’t too surprised because I’d been gone a long time and I was weak and they hadn’t found me,” she said.

After her lengthy rehab, she says she’s almost completely recovered.

“I feel like I’m strong now. I don’t have any aches or pains or injuries. I’ve gotten back most of my memory,” she said.

But she’s not going to let her husband talk her into any more hunting trips. “No more hunting,” she told Vieira. “No more hunting.”

She need have no fears on that account, as her husband, too, has given up the sport.

“No more hunting,” Harold Anderson echoed. “I’m spending the rest of my time with my wife until I am gone from this earth.”