Girl’s smart moves help her survive night in woods

Kathleen Mollinedo became disoriented after falling out of a tree

Kathleen Mollinedo, 13, spent 20 hours alone in the woods after falling out of a tree and becoming disoriented, Saturday, June 24, 2017. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 13-year-old girl who went missing while camping with her family over the weekend spent a night on her own before being found safe.

Kathleen Mollinedo was with her mother, siblings and her mother’s boyfriend at the Target Meadows Campground Saturday when she ventured off to go climb a tree.

Kathleen Mollinedo, 13, spent 20 hours alone in the woods after falling out of a tree and becoming disoriented, Saturday, June 24, 2017. (KOIN)

“There were just trees that were really good for climbing and I got bored so I started climbing a tree,” the 13-year-old recalled to KOIN 6 News.

But after climbing a good distance up the tree, Kathleen said she fell off.

“I fell out of the tree and rolled down a hill and didn’t know which direction camp was from there because I couldn’t see it anymore,” she said.

Slightly dazed and with some scratches from the fall, she said she started walking in the direction she thought camp was, only to find out it was the wrong way.

By then, her family was worried. They spent about 3 hours looking for her before calling Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office around 6 p.m. Search and rescue crews came out to the scene, but as the sun went down, they still hadn’t found Kathleen.

Search and rescue crews looked for 13-year-old Kathleen Mollinedo who was missing in the woods for 20 hours, June 24, 2017. (Umatilla Co. Sheriff’s Office)

“I found a clearing because I knew it would be safer in a clearing than underneath a lot of trees because they would be able to see me better,” Kathleen said. “Every time I heard something that sounded like a human voice I just yelled for help.”

Hours went by, and Kathleen continued waiting. Soon, day turned to night and she said she found a spot under a tree where she fell asleep.

The next morning, nearly 20 hours later, she was found safe.

Anne Lee Mollinedo said she jumped up and down and cried when her daughter, Kathleen, was found safe after spending a night in the woods, June 24, 2017. (KOIN)

“I would go back into the clearing every time it sounded like someone was saying something,” Kathleen said. “So I just repeated that until they found me.”

The news came as a huge relief to her mother, Anna Lee Mollinedo.

“When I heard she was found I was just jumping up and down, I was crying,” Anna Lee said. “It seemed like forever until they brought her to me.”

It was a beautiful reunion made possible by the actions Kathleen took.

“Stay where you are,” she suggested to others who find themselves in similar positions. “If you keep moving, you are going to get more lost.”

Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office provided these tips to stay safe while camping:

  • Be familiar with the area in which you are recreating
  • Have a map
  • Know the basic direction you are traveling from your departure point
  • Let others know your plans and a return time
  • Have a small compass, or even better, also have GPS
  • Have basic survival equipment including signalling devices (whistles for noises and a small mirror for visuals) to alert aircraft of your whereabouts; fire starting capabilities and a small flashlight or headlamp
  • Hydration is important, carry water
  • Dress or pack for the possibility of getting caught out overnight
  • Dress for the woods (eg: shorts and flip flops are not appropriate dress for hiking undeveloped trails or in the woods)
  • If lost, the best strategy is to stay put, listen and watch for searcher signals
  • For children, “Hug a Tree”

The sheriff’s office says the main killer of otherwise uninjured people who get lost are usually environmental: hypothermia, falls from dangerous terrains and avalanches.