What started out as a routine training mission for the Madera County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team last Wednesday turned into the real deal with the rescue of Freida Worley, 72, of Coarsegold and her 23-year-old grandson, Drew Christiansen.
Every year the search and rescue unit's snow team conducts four or five snow rescue training missions, and three deputies and five volunteers were doing just that on April 7 near Clover Meadow above Bass Lake. The group was heading home at about 1 p.m. when they found an abandoned Polaris Razor, a two-seat utility vehicle, in the middle of Beasore Road.
Volunteer Steve Arata and his 14-year-old son Chase, spotted Worley sitting on the side of the road near Jones Store, about 10 miles above Bass Lake. Arriving on the scene shortly after was retired Madera County Sgt. Chuck Bump. Bump used to be the head of the search and rescue unit and now works summers in the high country.
Worley told Bump she owned property just a quarter mile past Jones Store.
Bump strapped her on his snowmobile and he, along with Deputy Roy Broomfield -- driving another vehicle -- drove on, eventually picking up her grandson.
Bump said part way down the hill, he asked Worley if she needed a rest and she said "press on."
For 65 years, Worley had never seen the family's 10-acre property and summer cabin in the snow and decided April 7 would be the day. She and her grandson, a helicopter flight instructor in Fresno, decided to make the trip and started up Beasore Road at 10 a.m. They broke down at 11 a.m. and were found at 1 p.m.
"The trip was wonderful until we broke down about an hour later just a quarter mile from the property," Worley said. "We knew we had to get help and that our cell phones would not work up there. "Drew didn't want to leave me but since he can walk 10 times faster than me, he started down Beasore Road."
Worley attempted to walk down the road but she kept sinking up to her knees in the snow and stopped, too exhausted to continue.
"I must have taken a little nap, because I didn't even hear those people drive up," Worley said.
Worley and Christiansen reunited with Rene Christiansen, Worley's daughter and Christiansen's mother, , at the bottom of the hill.
"I think she was in worse shape than me from worrying about us," Worley said. Worley tried to give money to Bump but he told her "we don't take cash, but I do accept hugs."
Worley has since showed her appreciation by making a donation to the search and rescue team.
"The ride was worth it, and everyone was so nice to us," she said.
"You don't know how happy I was to see you," Worley told Bump when they reunited this past Saturday at Bass Lake. "He could have given me a ticket for parking in the middle of the road and I wouldn't have cared."
Worley said the good Lord was looking out for her April 7.
Sheriff John Anderson said their timing couldn't have been better.
"Our rescue team not only engaged in a good training mission ... it's because of that training mission we were able to reach her when we did ... more than likely saving her life."
-- Erica Stewart, sheriff's department public information officer, contributed to this story