How This Woman Survived Being Stranded In The Arizona Desert For Multiple Days
Everyone loves a good road trip to the Grand Canyon. Something about the amazing sights and natural splendor seen in Arizona along the way always seems to get visitors in the right, peaceful frame of mind to see such an amazing natural wonder. Amber VanHecke was no different from most people. Yearning to be surrounded by nature, she decided to take a road trip alone from Texas to Arizona all with the hopes of visiting the Grand Canyon. The trip started off beautifully.However, she soon came to realize that she had gotten a lot more from nature than she had initially bargained for.
Not too far off from the Grand Canyon, Amber’s vehicle ran out of gas, leaving her stranded in the middle of nowhere for nearly a week with few supplies. Distraught and fearing death was near, somehow, Amber managed to escape and come out relatively unscathed. How did she manage to survive? Keep reading to find out!
Before Amber set out on her cross-country trip to Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon, she lived a fairly normal life. 24-years-of-age and brimming with youthful energy, Amber was a college student at the University of Texas who was loved by her family and friends alike. She was also a huge nature-lover. She loved to be surrounded by trees and hear the sound of the breeze passing through their leaves. Needing to be with nature, Amber decided to embark on a trip from Texas, her hometown, all the way to Arizona.
The purpose of Amber’s trip was to go to visit the Grand Canyon, one of the most beautiful sites and natural landscapes you can find in the United States of America. She felt that it would have been a great idea. After all, the pressures of school and her academic duties were really getting to her. As a result, she saw the trip as a means to escape the world for a while in order to restore her inner peace and tranquility.
Leaving Her Loved Ones
Amber was extremely excited to be going on this road trip. Apart from the fact that she was extremely stressed out from school and wanted to relax, she also enjoyed sight-seeing. For her, it was one of the most pleasurable experiences that she could ever do. Whenever she was surrounded by nature, she always felt at peace. What better way is there to feel at peace than taking a trip to the Grand Canyon?
That said, taking a trip across the country did also mean that Amber would be away from her family and friends for an extended period of time. Although she had a lot of friends and family who would have probably wanted to accompany her as she drove for hours across to Arizona, she decided to go alone, leaving, among others, her Mom and Dad at home. While she may have enjoyed having the company, she really wanted to be alone. What’s more, she already had a place in mind.
Amber had her eyes set on going to the Havasu Falls, a waterfall found at Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon. Considering that she was a lover of nature, it comes as no surprise, actually. It’s a major attraction in the general canyon area and a real crowd favorite, especially for its plunge pools and beautiful, clear blue water. The area is so popular that you typically need a reservation in order to access it. Although it was a real beauty, Amber was assuming quite a bit of risk in going.
The trail leading to the canyon was, to put it frankly, in the middle of nowhere. If something were to go wrong, she could end up in a deserted area with barely a speck of life in sight. Still, she wanted to go. In a conversation with ABC News after the horrific incident, she considered her decision to be a “stubborn” one. However, at the time, all she was concerned about was going away to be one with nature and to disconnect from the world. She could have never imagined that she was going to get a thorough introduction to what it meant to be disconnected.
Having planned her trip, Amber was ready to go. It was difficult to say goodbye to her parents, especially since she was going to be gone for a while. Naturally, since she was traveling alone, they expressed their concern and were worried about her safety. However, they trusted their daughter and saw her off on her expedition.
Amber was prepared: she had stocked up on food, snacks, and water for her trip. She knew that she was in for a long journey and consequently ensured that she was adequately stocked up. She eagerly headed out for her cross-country trip: she couldn’t wait to get to Havasu Falls. She didn’t know that her trip was soon going to take a turn for the worst.
Making Her Way
Amber began her cross-country tour from her hometown in Texas. It took her almost an entire day of driving to get to Arizona. Understandably so, Amber was exhausted, tired and wanted nothing more than to take a snooze. However, she was so fueled by the passion and excitement to get to the Grand Canyon that she continued driving. She couldn’t wait to get to her final destination. She wanted nothing more than to immerse herself into the cool waters of the Havasu Falls and to witness the splendor of the canyon.
Already in Arizona and nearing the canyon, Amber used the GPS on her smartphone to guide her as she drove. The software advised her to pull of off highway 64 and turn into a dirt road. She hoped that this trail would have led her to the falls. In a later interview with ABC News, she criticized her decision, claiming that she “trusted Google Maps and I (she) shouldn’t have.” Shortly after beginning the journey down the off-the-beaten-path, she grew to immensely regret her decision.
A Dead End
On March 12th, 2017, after heading down the deserted trail, Amber drove for yet another hour down the dark, poorly-lit road with the hope that she would soon get to her destination. She trusted Google Maps and hoped that they would have led her down the right path. She soon found out that these devices couldn’t be trusted.
Suddenly, as she was driving down the road, she encountered a fence which blocked her path: the road was a dead end. For over an hour, she drove deeper into a dead-end road in the middle of the night. She desperately tried to make her way back to the highway only to realize that her GPS was no longer working because she had no internet service. How was she going to get back to the highway with no GPS?
It Gets Worse
Sensing that things were beginning to go horribly wrong, Amber goes into panic mode. Here she was, lost in the middle of nowhere with no internet service. How was she going to make her way back to the highway if she had no GPS to guide her? Still, there was a glimmer of hope for Amber.
While her internet service may not have been working, she still had cell service. With that, she frantically made a call to 911 with the hope that she could report her location to someone and eventually get help. However, only seconds after her call connected, it dropped. She was now disconnected from the outside world with no way to reach anyone. However, things were about to get even rougher for Amber.
Low On Gas
With no internet service to help her find her way back to the highway, Amber was desperate. She knew that she had made a big mistake when she turned into the trail. She trusted Google Maps, and she was now paying the consequences. Now, she was lost and unsure as to how to get back to the highway. Unfortunately for Amber, that was the least of her worries.
Her gas meter had indicated to her that she was running low on fuel. She stopped at a gas station in Arizona to fill it up, but only filled up 1/3 of her tank’s maximum capacity. Her hope was that she would have been able to save money, thinking that it would have lasted her for a while. She admits that this was a bad decision. “I could have spared myself a lot of grief,” were her feelings after the fact. But at that moment, she was in deep trouble. What was she going to do?
Amber knew that she was in for a tough challenge. She had no internet, and worse yet, the fuel in her vehicle was running dangerously low. Surely, it would have been insufficient for her to drive all the way back to the entrance to the highway. What was she going to do? She was aware that her situation was desperate and that she needed to act fast before it was too late. Thankfully, she still had enough fuel to continue driving albeit for a short distance. She decided to use that to her advantage.
Turning her vehicle around, she drove in the direction of the highway from which she had initially deviated. Along the way, she managed to spot a man-made structure in the darkness. She decided to park alongside the structure and wait it out with the hope that someone may come to the site in the morning and discover her.
Amber woke up the next morning desperate and fearing the worst. There was still no one in sight, nor was there any sign of life around her. All she could see around her was a vast expanse of empty land. Resigned to her fate, she decided to record her journey by taking period videos of herself with her smartphone documenting her time while being stranded.
Every now and again, there would be encouraging signs that she would be saved. She would periodically see a helicopter flying over where she had parked her vehicle. She would run outside frantically waving her hands in the air with the hope that either the pilot of the aircraft or someone on board might notice her. Sadly, despite her best efforts, they never did. How was she ever going to be saved from this place?
Amber wasn’t the only person who was worried about her well-being. Back in Texas, her parents were worried sick. It had been over a day since Amber had left Texas. They had not gotten a call from her indicating that she had arrived safely in Arizona. To make matters worse, Steven, Amber’s dad, tried on numerous occasions to reach her. He called her and even pinged her via her GPS app, to both of which he didn’t get a response.
Needless to say, this was a major cause of concern for both parents. While they trusted their daughter, they did find it strange that she hadn’t contacted them yet. What’s more, they tried reaching her but got no response. Naturally, they began to suspect that something wrong happened to her. Sadly, they couldn’t have imagined how deep a predicament she had found herself in.
As Amber waited in her car for help to come, she was overcome with emotion and guilt. She felt that it was all her fault that she had ended up in the desperate situation in which she found herself. She blamed herself for being so stupid. She should have never followed the GPS’s suggestion when she turned on to a blocked trail. She should have known better, especially considering that these applications aren’t 100% reliable. What’s worse, she also blamed herself for not putting enough gas in her tank when she could have done so.
If it had not been for those two decisions, she wouldn’t have been stuck in the middle of nowhere. She was really hard on herself and had to deal with the guilt of knowing that she had made a horrible decision. However, despite her harsh treatment of herself, she was thankful for one thing.
Skills Come In Handy
Although Amber wasn’t in the best of situations, she did have a few things going for her: namely, the survival skills she had acquired as a child. Not only was she a girl’s scout, but she was also a junior ROTC. In both capacities, she learned survival skills and was trained in navigating sticky situations. She could have never thought that at some point down the road, the training she received as a kid would have played such an important role in her life.
Realizing that aircraft might not be able to spot her because of her size, she decided to create a rock formation which spelled out “HELP” near where she parked her vehicle. She made it big enough so that she could be easily spotted from the air. She hoped that it would have helped her be more identifiable and increase her chances of getting saved. Still, there was a lot to be done, and there was no guarantee that she would be saved anytime soon. Knowing this, she went into full-blown survival mode.
Although Amber was hopeful, she knew that she had to make provisions for a possible worst-case scenario. She began to carefully ration out her supply of food and water. She understood that if she were to stay in the desert for an extended period of time, she would have needed all the supplies she could get. She didn’t want to use up everything too quickly for fear that help might take long to come, or worse, yet, never come.
She was very particular about how she rationed water as well. “Three bottles a day should last me for at least a week and a half,” was what she stated in one of her videos documenting her tumultuous struggle while stranded. She was putting all of her survival skills to good use. She knew that if she were to mismanage her resources, she could end up in even more of a difficult situation. How was she going to fare as time raged on?
By this time, it had been three days since Amber was stranded. She was beginning to lose faith. She had done everything she thought that she could have done to get help, but nothing seemed to work. Her message begging for help seemed to fall on deaf ears as no help came. She couldn’t help but feel as if it was all her fault.
She was constantly haunted by the feeling that she was to blame. It played on her mind every second that she spent in the desert. Questions like “if only I had …” swarmed her mind and flooded her thoughts with guilt and disappointment in herself. All she wanted to do was see her family again. And speaking of family …
The Search Begins
Amber was obviously distressed that she had gotten herself in such a huge mess. That said, her parents were also extremely worried. It had been three days since they had last made contact with their daughter. It was so strange of her not to answer her phone. To make matters worse, her father tried on numerous occasions to contact her via her GPS app but was unsuccessful. They knew that something horrible had happened to their daughter.
Desperate for some help, Steven resorted to social media with the hope that someone could help him figure out his daughter’s whereabouts. He made a post on Facebook asking anyone who had any information about his daughter to contact him immediately. He hoped that his post would have been able to provide him with some answers or at least a lead with regard to his missing daughter. He did, however, make one crucial mistake …
It was clear that both of Amber’s parents were desperate to get in touch with their daughter. Steven hoped that his post would have sparked a search and that someone would be able to tell him where his daughter was. However, in as much as Steven meant well, he made a crucial mistake in his Facebook post.
He provided Amber’s last known location which was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While he would have had no knowledge that his daughter was already in Arizona when she ended up getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, pointing persons to Albuquerque was, in hindsight, an obvious error as Amber was now nowhere close to Albuquerque. Although he had done the best he could, it was still not enough, and his search yielded no results.
A Sign Of Hope
By the time day four came around, Amber’s hopes were rapidly dwindling. She hadn’t seen a sign of life since she had been waiting by this man-made structure. Her food and water supplies were going down, and with no way to replenish them, she feared for the worst. Would she stay here and die? Would she ever be able to see her beloved family again? Then, a glimmer of hope shone its way to Amber giving her the strength to keep going on.
Just as she was about to give up, she spotted a vehicle driving in the distance. Like a runner who hears the sound of the horn, Amber sprinted into action, running as fast as she could to stop the vehicle and get some help. “I had immediately jumped out of my car and tried to run after them not thinking about my feet not thinking about anything else,” was what she told ABC News in an interview. Would she be able to catch the vehicle? Would they stop and try to help her?
Almost In Time, But Not Quite
Sadly, Ambers attempts at signaling the vehicle to stop were in vain. “They didn’t see me in their rear-view,” she said in one video documenting her struggle on day 4. Amber was visibly emotionally. She was so close to getting saved, but now, hope seemed yet again like a distant fantasy.
Amber couldn’t believe it. Her one shot at getting out of the desert and back to civilization had slipped her fingertips. She was so close, yet so far. Once again, those thoughts which tortured her mind about what she could have done to save herself came back again. She was tormented by her own guilt and fearful for her life. Would she ever make it out alive?
Amber was in a really dangerous situation, and she knew it. She couldn’t help but regret her decision to take a trip by herself all the way to Arizona. Her parents had their reservations about such a trip, especially since she would have been alone for such an extended period of time. They feared that the worst could have happened to her. Despite their fears, she still went on with the trip. She was now regretting her decision.
Her hopes and dreams of visiting the Havasu Falls and having a safe, uneventful and relaxing trip were now a fantasy. Her trip had been anything but calming and relaxing so far. She was lost and abandoned near the Grand Canyon. She had always loved to be surrounded by nature, but always in a controlled environment. This was not her idea of a nice trip. She was stressed and losing faith that she would ever be found.
As day 4 drew to a close, Amber really began to feel the pressures of being alone in the desert with no apparent way of getting out alive. She was hungry and dehydrated. She couldn’t consume as much food and water as she would have liked to because she had to strategically ration them out. She was lonely and wanted desperately to find someone to help her.
She couldn’t help but think about her family and friends that she left behind in Texas. She remembered the fond memories that she shared with them and wanted desperately to relive those experiences and create new ones with them. Above all, she wanted to be back home with her loved ones and as far away from the desert as possible. But now, it just didn’t seem like it was possible. She had been stuck there for four days already without anyone. She feared the worst.
A Sad Video
With nothing left to do, Amber continued to document her tragic story using her smartphone. She lamented that she really missed her family and desperately wanted to be reunited with them again. “All I can keep thinking is how much I want my daddy and my mom,” she sobbed in one of her recordings. Amber loved her parents dearly, and the thought that she might never see them again hurt her immensely.
It was clear that she had reached an all-time low. The joy and fervor she had when she set off on the trip were now gone. Now, she was desperately trying to stay alive. She needed to somehow survive and be back with her family and friends again. But would she? She had been waiting in the desert for over 100 hours up till that point without any sign of being saved. Her hopes were low and her faith even lower.
The Will To Survive
Amber was alone and running out of options. It had been four days since she had been in the desert. At the rate things were going, it seemed as if she would never be rescued. Help might never come her way. Knowing that this was a possibility, she tried her best to make do with what she had. She was extremely methodical with how she managed her now dwindling food and water supply as she had no idea whether aid would ever come.
That said, she knew that she had to do something soon. She couldn’t risk remaining in the desert. What if help would never come? What would happen if her food and water supply were to be depleted? How would she go get help? if she wanted to guarantee her survival, Amber would have had to do something quickly.
A Risky Move
By the time day 5 came around, Amber knew that she had to do something to help her get out of this vast wasteland of nothing. if she continued to stay there, either one of two things would happen: she would run out of food supplies, or help would never come. She felt that the right thing to do was to get out and do something quickly.
That said, she was aware that leaving her car behind as she embarked on this journey would be dangerous. After all, what if help were to finally come when she’s away from her vehicle? Despite that feeling, she felt that she had to make a move. But just what was she going to do anyway?
Searching For A Signal
What exactly was Amber going to do? Did she intend to walk all the way back to the highway? Absolutely not. If she were to do that, she would be walking for hours and hours, which wouldn’t be a great idea considering that her body’s water levels were relatively low. No, Amber was about to do a daring and bold move.
Amber was about to walk quite a distance away from her vehicle hoping to get some sort of phone signal: 11 miles to be exact. In the distance, she could have seen Flagstaff Mountain. Knowing that there were cell towers on the mountain, she hoped that if she had gotten close enough, she would have been able to get a trace of a phone signal to be able to make another desperate call. Would she be successful this time?
A Desperate Attempt
Although Amber knew that there were cell towers on the mountain in the distance, she was also aware that she mightn’t have been able to make a call. Depending on the distance, her phone might not have been able to connect to the towers. She had no way of knowing for sure whether she would have had any luck this time. But, she was hopeful and figured that it was better than doing nothing.
When she felt that she had gotten close enough to the mountain, she repeatedly dialed 911. Her phone records showed that she called them over 70 times. Every time she called, she hoped that she would have heard a voice on the other end of the line. What would happen? Would her phone connect? Would she be able to get in touch with someone from 911?
After 70 attempts at calling 911, finally, Amber heard a voice on the other line. She was overjoyed and elated to finally hear a voice. She told the operator that she had been stranded in the desert for five days and that she was located relatively close to the Havasu Falls Trail Head and that she needed help immediately. Before she knew it, the call was gone.
Amber couldn’t believe it. In no time, her one chance and hope had vanished without any warning. She tried again to call back but got no response. She was once again, alone. She had no clue whether the information she had provided was enough to issue a search for her. She felt that she had failed and that she had no chance to make it out of the desert.
When the call dropped, Amber was devasted. Like a wave, she felt all her hopes of ever escaping the desert were gone. To her, it seemed as if everything was going wrong. She had no gas, limited food, and no phone connection. The one time when she tried to make a phone call and was successful, she was barely able to get the words out of her mouth before the call dropped. It seemed as if the universe was conspiring against her.
To Amber, it was almost as if the entire world joined forces to make her life as miserable as possible. She didn’t know whether she would ever see her family and friends again. What’s worse, she wasn’t sure whether she would even live to see another day. Returning to Texas seemed like it would never happen again. What Amber didn’t know was that help was on the way …
When her 911 call dropped, Amber thought that all hope was lost. She couldn’t believe that she was able to provide the agent with enough information to start a search for her. But, she did: actually, although the location she provided was not exact, she was able to point the 911 agent in the right direction and let that agent know that she desperately needed help. With that, Arizona’s Department of Public Safety was contacted and a search was put into full effect.
But, of course, Amber had no clue that any of this was happening. All she could think about was how foolish she had been for not putting gas in her vehicle when she had the opportunity or the mere fact that she had gone on this trip to begin with. But help was on the way for her.
Search And Rescue Mission
Apart from the pilot who was steering the chopper used to locate Amber, there was also a paramedic on board. The team felt that this was a good addition as they had no idea what Amber’s medical condition would have been like when they found her. For all they knew, she could have been dehydrated and malnourished after spending so many days out in the desert alone.
As the pilot steered the aircraft into the general area in which Amber reported that she was in, in the far distance they managed to spot two structures: the man-made structure next to which Amber had parked her vehicle, as well as her car. As they approached the specks, they realized that they had come across Amber’s location. Her rock formation which spelled out “HELP” was visible to those on board the craft. They had finally found her!
Where Was Amber
As they lowered the aircraft, her mayday distress signal became more visible. “Must have been about 20 or 30-foot letters written out of rocks on the ground next to the car and we were like ‘this has got to be it,'” stated the pilot to ABC News. Certain that they had found the woman who made the distress call to 911, they landed the aircraft and proceeded to look for her.
However, they looked high-and-low for Amber but didn’t see her. They were sure that they had found someone who was in distress. After all, apart from the signal written on the ground next to the vehicle, there would be no reason for a car to be randomly parked out in the middle of nowhere. But Amber was nowhere to be found. Just when they were about to give up, they realized that she had left a note next to her vehicle in case anyone came by during her absence.
Although Amber’s emotions were high and she was generally not in the best frame of mind, she never lost her survival instincts. Before she left on her 11-mile walk, she left a note near her vehicle which indicated where she had gone to. She did that just on the off-chance that someone might have passed by her car and wondered where she had gone.
“I’m not here. I’ve walked east along the road to find cell-phone signal. If you’re reading this sign, please help me,” was one of the officers on board’s recap of what Amber’s note said. They were happy that they had located her and were impressed with her smart move to leave a note behind letting someone know her whereabouts. But, the question still remained: would they find her, and if so, in how bad of a shape would she be?
Searching For Amber
Having discovered Amber’s chilling message, the rescue team knew that they had to do their utmost to locate Amber as soon as possible. With no time to spare, they hopped back on to the helicopter and made their way along the path mapped out by Amber. They hoped that she had stuck to her instructions and that they would be able to find her soon.
Overhead, as Amber was trying desperately to get a phone signal and call 911 back, she heard in the distance the sound of a helicopter flying above. Sensing that this was perhaps her only shot at getting out of the desert, she frantically tried to get the passengers on board’s attention, wildly jumping up and down, hoping that they would have spotted her movements. But would they? After all, she had attempted on two previous occasions to get someone’s attention but failed. Just how successful would she be this time?
Luck Was Finally On Her Side
“I look and I see someone jumping up and down in the road waving at us,” said the pilot flying the helicopter. With that, the aircraft began to make a landing. Amber’s attempts to flag down the aircraft worked! She was in disbelief! Twice she had tried to get help but wasn’t noticed. Finally, it seemed as if she was about to get help and finally be rescued from the desert.
After five days of being stranded in a vast wasteland with no one in sight, Amber had finally been rescued. As soon as the helicopter landed and the crew got off, Amber ran into their arms and embraced them so tightly that it seemed as though she wasn’t about to let go. She had finally been rescued. Her emotions got over her and she began sobbing incessantly. At last, she was free.
For Amber, it was so difficult for her to process the fact that she had been saved. It had been over five days since she was stuck in Arizona with thoughts whirling around her mind of never seeing her family again. For the last few days, she was resigned to her fate. In as much as she wanted desperately to see her family again and to be rescued, the fact that help had not come was discouraging. She was ready to throw in the towel and wait for fate to decide her outcome.
Now, all of a sudden, she was rescued. Help had finally come for her. She was free at last. Now, she could be reunited with her family and friends again. Now, she didn’t have to ration food and water as she was about to go back to living the life she had prior to leaving on this disastrous trip. Now, she was finally saved. But, there was still a lot left for Amber to do.
Going To The Hospital
Although Amber had finally been rescued, the worst wasn’t over yet. Amber had to be taken to the hospital immediately upon being found. Because of the five days she spent stranded in the desert, Amber’s body had taken a severe beating. She was dehydrated and underfed. She had to get medical attention immediately.
Still, Amber was happy to have been found. Although her body wasn’t in the best of shape, she was alive and that was the most important thing. Finally, help was on the way and she was being treated at a hospital. She was happy and content.
As soon as Amber was brought to the hospital, she was immediately seen by a doctor who assessed her health. She was diagnosed with overexposure and dehydration from having spent so much time in the hot desert without drinking enough water. Thankfully, she was still alive and her situation was not that severe, so all looked pretty positive for Amber. She was also in good hands, which was another thing to be thankful for.
Amber was glad to be alive and thankful for her training as a girl’s scout when she was younger. If it wasn’t for that, she wouldn’t have been alive today. The rescue team praised her for her quick thinking and smart decision to leave a note in case someone were to stop by her vehicle. She had done everything right, and for that, she was able to live and tell the tale. But what about her parents? How were they handling the news?
An Emotional Conversation
From the time Amber was rescued to the time she got to the hospital, so much was going on that it was difficult for her to keep up. Naturally, she had to thank her rescue team for tracking her down and ensuring that she was safe. Despite it all, she knew that she had to contact her parents as soon as possible. They were probably worried sick about her. It had been nearly a week since they had last heard from her. What would their reaction be?
When Amber called her father, he was so overcome with emotion that he could barely speak. He was so happy to know that his daughter was alive and that she was being well taken care of. She was so happy to hear his voice and to know that he was looking for her during the entire time that she was lost. She felt loved and appreciated the fact that her parents cared for her.
As she looks back on her journey, Amber tries to be positive about the ordeal and try to help people to learn from her experience. “I did do right things even if I did make mistakes and if I can just share those things that I did right with everyone, if it saves even just one life, then it’s worth it,” Amber said to ABC News.
Still, she couldn’t believe that she had managed to go through such a horrible ordeal. She had no clue whether she was going to make it out alive, and as the days went on, she was losing hope. But, from it all, she did take something positive out of it …
Loving Her Family
After the entire ordeal, Amber has been working hard on restoring her mental state to relative normalcy. Needless to say, words can’t begin to describe how distressing such a thing must have been to her. Still, she is thankful for life, and most of all, being reunited with her family.
She feels that since then, she has developed a stronger relationship with her family and believes that she appreciates them even more now. Having been stranded for so long without any hope of making it out alive has given her a new sense of purpose and made her appreciate the life that she has been given and for that, she is thankful.