EDITOR’S NOTE: Vanhecke kept a video diary of her ordeal in the desert and she shared it with ABC’s Good Morning America. That video and the rest of her story will be on GMA beginning at 7:00 a.m. Thursday on Channel 8.
DENTON – Amber Vanhecke, a student at the University of North Texas, had pumpkin seeds and an apple left when an air rescue helicopter found her after five days in the Arizona desert.
“She was shaking but she was happy. We calmed her down,” said Jonah Nieves, Arizona DPS Air Rescue pilot.
Vanhecke, 24, went to northern Arizona to hike during spring break last week and was traveling alone in a remote area near the south rim of the Grand Canyon when her car ran out of gas.
“She was there to hike so she had supplies. She had pen and paper. She had a way to make a fire,” added Nieves. She did everything right except ran out of gas.
"I panicked. I drove around aimlessly trying to find the road and I shouldn't have done that. I should have stayed put," said Vanhecke in an interview to air Thursday morning on ABC’s Good Morning America.
A truck passed one day on the dusty road but she said she couldn’t get it to stop it in time.
"I was like am I going to die out here? Please help me. And just screaming and internally and externally," she added.
Over the next few days, Vanhecke could hear tour helicopters flying overhead, he added.
“She told me that she would hear those and fell apart and start crying,” said Nieves.
“She was smart and prepared. She had food and water in her vehicle for the trip. Even though she was down to her last bit of water, it kept her going,” said Edgar Bissonette, trooper paramedic on the air rescue unit.
But on Friday, Vanhecke decided to start walking in hopes of getting a cell phone signal to call for help.
After hiking seven miles and dialing 76 times to 911, one call finally connected to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.
But before 911 operators could get Vanhecke’s exact location, her cell phone call dropped. That conversation lasted 49-seconds, according to her call log.
“She had some books. She was reading. Her car ran out of gas but her car battery was still charged. That’s how she was using [her phone],” said Nieves.
With limited information, Nieves and Bissonnette launched their air rescue helicopter and started looking near Indian Route 18 and Anita Road within the Havasupai Reservation.
It took 40-minutes before the crew noticed a glare from Vanhecke’s vehicle. Behind it, written with stones, is a large “HELP” sign.
But when the helicopter landed, Bissonnette said Vanhecke’s vehicle was empty.
After looking around, Bissonnette said he found a note from Vanhecke.
“I started following the road EAST to see if I can get a cellphone signal,” she wrote. “I am marking my way with white sports tape. If you read this, please come help me!”
The air rescue helicopter launched again and moments later saw Vanhecke “frantically waving to get their attention,” the crew said.
Bissonnette, the flight paramedic, got out first.
I said ‘Hi did you call.’ She kind of gave me a real big bear hug,” he recollected.
“I think she did everything she needed to, to survive and get out of there,” said Nieves.
"I had wanted to be like I thought I was going to die out there but they were very careful to edge me away from thoughts like that. They were like 'Nah, you're fine.’ And they were making jokes like ‘I'd rather get lost with you than just about anybody else,’” recalled Vanhecke.
She was treated at the scene for exposure, placed in the helicopter, and transported to the trauma center in Flagstaff, said Arizona DPS.