CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Three Midwestern sisters said Friday faith helped them survive for more than four days while lost in a Wyoming wilderness area, and they were grateful searchers didn't give up.
The sisters spoke at a news conference in the resort town of Jackson in their first public appearance after being airlifted to safety Thursday. The women and their parents thanked search and rescue personnel, volunteers and friends for their support and work in finding them.
"Glad to be out safe," said Megan Margaret Andrews-Sharer, 25, of Milwaukee.
"When I saw the sight as we landed in the helicopter, I realized that there is no way people were going to give up on the search," added Erin Andrews-Sharer, 22, of Columbus, Ohio. "That was something that crossed my mind a couple of times, but I saw this army of people ready to come out for us, and I knew there was no giving up."
They were joined by their sister Kelsi Andrews-Sharer, 16, also of Columbus.
Their father, Eric Andrews-Sharer, cited the girls' previous camping experience, saying the family went camping when they were younger. On one trip, they had to wait out a snowstorm that collapsed one of their tents.
"We are very thankful to be back together as a family," he said. "As you can imagine, it was a very trying experience for all folks involved."
He choked up briefly while thanking the search and rescue teams, the local community and others who came out to "help us find our girls."
The father added the family is "kind of shy" and eager to return to their normal lives.
"We'd like to go back and blend into society again, do our thing and not be on national TV and not be on websites," Eric Andrews-Sharer said.
Erin said faith helped the girls survive — "just trusting in God and knowing that he was going to carry us through."
Megan added the girls had fuel, a water filter, a tent and good sleeping bags. She only wished they had brought more food.
The sisters rationed their food and set up their tent in an open area so search aircraft would have a better chance of spotting them, Teton County Sheriff James Whalen said.
The three left July 1 for their backpacking trip in a remote part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. They planned to hike back out July Fourth, Whalen said.
But they got lost in an area about 15 miles southeast of Jackson that has mountains about 10,000 feet high and many confusing trails created by wildlife.
"I think through their life experiences of camping and hiking, they just said, 'Well, we've been told that we should just hunker down, set up our camp and wait for someone to come get us.' And that's essentially what they did," Whalen said.
Searchers didn't know where to look for the girls when their parents reported them overdue Tuesday, Whalen said.
But they found the sisters' car Wednesday, and the following day a local guide reported he had spotted a person in a white raincoat in the wilderness. The guide provided specific map coordinates that led the helicopter to the girls.
Whalen said search and rescue team members were confident of finding the girls because they knew the sisters were well-provisioned and it wasn't too cold.
"They could have survived, I believe, quite a bit longer because they had water, they were rationing their food, and they had shelter," he said. "Whether it would be a week or something, I don't know, but I think they were a long way aways from actually being posed with a serious battle with survival."