For days, hundreds of California rescuers held out hope of finding a Michigan woman who had disappeared while hiking alone through mountainous terrain in the central Sierra Nevada Mountains. Unfortunately she was found dead, officials announced.
Unmanned drones whizzed through the skies providing support from above, while on the ground, search teams with canines and all-terrain vehicles scoured the vast wilderness for any sign of 66-year-old Ann Herford. But a week after officials announced they had reined in their search efforts – and nearly two weeks after Herford first went missing – rescue teams found the body of the traveling nurse.
Around 9 a.m. local time on Thursday, Herford was found dead on a steep hillside beneath heavy tree canopy and dense foliage, according to the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, which led the multi-agency rescue operation.
The area is north of where Herford had parked her vehicle on Nov. 12 to embark on a solo hike of the Arnold Rim Trail, located about 100 miles southeast of Sacramento.
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Herford expressed interest in hiking, but lacked survival skills
A friend of the nurse told law enforcement that Herford, who had been staying alone at a Sonora hotel, had expressed interest in hiking when the two had been out to breakfast three days earlier.
A witness later recalled seeing Herford a day after the breakfast on Nov. 12 near a trailhead of the Arnold Rim Trail, a mid-elevation trail for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Authorities found Herford's car on Nov. 15, according to the sheriff's office.
While family members told law enforcement that Herford enjoyed hiking, they said she lacked wilderness survival skills and never hiked more than a couple of miles at a time, the sheriff's office said.
When the search first began, the sheriff's office urged residents of the nearby Lakemont subdivision to check their property and outbuildings for any sign of the woman.
Several agencies, including Army, part of 'extensive' search
In the days that followed, hundreds of searchers with more than a dozen agencies fanned out across the wilderness to locate Herford, the sheriff's office said.
The Air National Guard and the United States Army were among those that provided air support to those on the ground. The terrain was so perilous as to warrant specialized high angle rope teams, off-road vehicles, dive teams with remote-operated vehicles and canine search teams, the sheriff's office said.
Investigators also conducted a forensic examination of Herford's vehicle and her computer.
But by Wednesday, Nov. 22, a week after rescue operations began, the sheriff's office announced it was reining in the search.
By that time, the "extensive" seven-day search included contributions from 18 agencies and a total of 478 searchers, the sheriff's office said.
"The search operation spanned a challenging and mountainous 12 square-mile area, in which search teams created over 2,475 linear miles of search tracks," the agency said in a Nov. 22 post on Facebook.
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Foul play not suspected in Herford's death
While limited in scope, the search continued for the next week through a dense forest of tall trees and mountainous terrain until Herford's body was found.
The search's end came at "an extremely steep and dense section" of the wilderness located north of San Antonio Creek and south of Forest Road, the sheriff's office said. The area, which was not part of the Arnold Rim Trail, was where Herford was found dead.
The California Highway Patrol was called in to airlift the woman’s body from the area, which was not easily accessible on foot, the sheriff's office said.
It was not immediately clear how Herford died, but authorities said they do not suspect foul play was a factor.
Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Traveling Michigan nurse who disappeared on California hike found dead