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72-year-old lost in desert for 9 days, rescued after using sticks to spell out HELP

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TUCSON, Ariz. — A 72-year-old Arizona woman and her dog survived nine days in the wilderness of the White Mountains, thanks to her quick thinking and survival skills.

Ann Charon Rodgers left Tucson March 31 to travel to Phoenix to visit her grandchildren, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Rodgers got lost on a remote stretch of a back-country road near Canyon Creek on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. She then ran out of gas and depleted the charge in her hybrid vehicle.

Ann Charon Rodgers survived 9 days in the wilderness (Photo source: DPS)

Ann Charon Rodgers survived 9 days in the wilderness (Photo source: DPS)

Authorities say Rodgers then climbed several ridge lines to try to get a cellphone signal.

“I had made the decision that I could go no further,” Rodgers told KPHO. “I was losing too much focus.”

When that failed, she found shelter, water and food.

For the next nine days, she and her dog survived by drinking pond water and eating plants.

She even built a distress signal, using sticks and rocks she found on the canyon floor to spell out the word “help.”

Tucson woman lost in desert uses sticks to spell out HELP (Source: DPS)

Tucson woman lost in desert uses sticks to spell out HELP (Source: DPS)

On April 9, a tribal Game and Fish officer found Rodgers’ dog walking out of the Canyon Creek area.

An air crew spotted Rodgers’ distress signal and found a handwritten note on a rock, indicating Rodgers had run out of food and water and was proceeding down the canyon.

The rescue team discovered a shelter abandoned by Rodgers, and found her a little farther down the canyon, standing next to a signal fire and waving to the helicopter.

“I was sobbing,” Rodgers said. “Of course, I had been waving my big red bag around like crazy.”

DPS said Rodgers was suffering from exposure, but was in fair condition and able to walk to and board the helicopter with little assistance. She was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Payson for treatment, but now she’s doing OK.

“Enjoying every moment,” Rodgers said. “Loving the food I’m eating for darn sure and saying thank you.”

Rodgers said she learned how to live off the land after taking some survival courses.