Ore. Mushroom Pickers Found Alive After 6 Days

Published February 5, 2012 1:36AM (EST)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A family of three huddled on the edge of an old-growth Oregon forest for six days, lost and cold, unable to signal search helicopters flying low and slow overhead.

Without food, water or even warm clothing, Belinda and Daniel Conne, along with their 25-year-old son, Michael, survived by drinking water from streams and taking shelter in a hollowed-out tree.

On Saturday, they managed to crawl to a clearing, where a search helicopter spotted them several miles outside the community of Gold Beach, roughly 330 miles south-southwest of Portland.

"It's a miracle, really," Curry County Sheriff John Bishop said.

The three were airlifted to a Gold Beach hospital, where Bishop spoke with them at an emergency room.

The family told Bishop they could see helicopters just a few hundred feet above them while they were lost, but couldn't signal rescuers.

Bishop said Daniel Conne suffered a back injury, Belinda Conne had hypothermia, and their son had a sprained foot and minor frostbite. All three also were dehydrated and hungry.

"They just got turned around," Bishop said. "They sought some shelter in a hollowed-out tree and basically they stayed in the same place. But it was heavy vegetation where they were."

Bishop said the three were "remarkably in pretty good shape," given the amount of time they spent outside. He said they likely could have survived for two or three more days in the area, where fresh water is plentiful but food is scarce.

The area's weather was mostly clear, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flew the family to Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach. A nursing supervisor said Saturday afternoon the family members were in a doctor's care and were unavailable for comment.

At the hospital emergency room, Bishop said the Connes were "very thankful for the rescue" and were able to eat solid food.

The ordeal began last Sunday when the three went out looking for hedgehog mushrooms, an orange-topped fungus prized by mushroom hunters for its sweet and nutty flavor. The family had been living in a trailer at a campsite after leaving Oklahoma for Oregon last summer.

Dusk fell during their hunt. They started to return to their Jeep but couldn't agree on directions.

"Pretty quickly, they found they were lost," Bishop said.

The family found a forest road next to a river bank and huddled together with their dog, a pit-terrier mix.

Search parties were dispatched Tuesday, when their campsite manager realized the Connes hadn't returned. The Jeep was found on a logging road Wednesday, along with two small dogs and the family's jackets.

Searchers found a trail and a few hopeful clues along the way: a can of Pepsi, mushroom-picking buckets, a few pieces of clothing.

Bishop said Daniel Conne told him he had a sinking feeling every day the family wasn't found. Conne would watch the search helicopter pass, but had nothing with which to signal it through the thick coastal forest vegetation.

"They said, 'You were right above us,'" Bishop said.

When the family was finally found Saturday, they were only 200 yards from the nearest group of searchers.

The search had focused on a 4-square-mile area. Bishop said the family was in the search area but likely kept moving, making the search for them more difficult.

"We were actually right near them all three days" of the search, Bishop said. In the area's canyons, "you think people can hear you, but they can't."

The search involved three Southern Oregon counties and one California county.

When dawn broke Saturday, Bishop said searchers entered the woods without much hope.

"We were sort of getting ready to go into body-recovery mode," he said.

Joe Dykes, who works at the Huntley Park campsite where the family was staying, said Belinda and Daniel Conne arrived at the campsite in July after moving there from Oklahoma. Their son arrived later.

Belinda Conne works as a housekeeper at the Jot's Resort, where motel owner Virginia McKinney said the Connes were preparing to rent a home in Gold Beach before the disappearance.

McKinney said Belinda told her she always wanted to live on the Oregon coast, and finally left Oklahoma last year with the intention of settling down.

The area where the Connes were found is rugged country in the Klamath Mountains riddled with a maze of logging roads. People frequently get lost or stranded there.

In 2006, a San Francisco family was stranded in a snowstorm on a logging road about 35 miles northeast of the search area for the Connes. James Kim died of hypothermia trying to hike out, but his wife and children were rescued by a helicopter pilot.


Reporter Nigel Duara can be reached at

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------