By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - A 62-year-old hiker stranded for nine days with broken bones in the Sierra National Forest in California said on Tuesday that when she blew her whistle to draw rescuers to her, she felt it was her last chance at survival.
Miyuki Harwood, who remains in a hospital following her rescue on Saturday, also said in her statement on the website of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office that she regretted leaving the rest of her hiking group, a decision that led to her being stranded by herself.
Harwood's statement said she had reached the summit of Blackcap Mountain, in the Sierra National Forest on the eastern side of central California, on Aug. 20 with a group from the Sierra Club and decided to head back alone to the group's camp, as it was getting dark.
She fell off a cliff and landed on both legs, Harwood said. A statement from her family said Harwood suffered injuries to both legs and her back and had surgery after her rescue to repair her broken left leg and would soon need surgery for her fractured right angle.
During her ordeal in the wilderness, Harwood found that she could not stand. So she crawled to a creek to scoop up water that she drank with a filter, she said. The water kept her alive, officials said.
She heard a rescue team on Friday and blew a whistle that she had brought on the hike, but the rescuers did not hear it, Harwood said.
"On Saturday, August 29, I thought this was the last chance to do something for me to survive," Harwood's statement said. "I heard voices talking, so I blew my whistle again and they responded with my name."
The Orangevale, California, woman added that she became overcome with emotion when the rescuers from a Fresno County Sheriff's Office search team found her at the creekbed where she had been stranded. She had endured cold nights on the ground, with only a medium-weight jacket for warmth.
The California National Guard sent a Chinook helicopter and a Black Hawk chopper to assist in the search, and authorities also deployed a remote-controlled drone in the operation, which was undertaken even as a wildfire moved toward the area, Fresno County Sheriff's Office officials have said.
More than 50 people participated in the search, said Fresno County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tony Botti.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)