Woman lost in Montana wilderness tells miraculous story of survi - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Woman lost in Montana wilderness tells miraculous story of survival

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ESSEX, Montana -

By David Winter
ABC Fox Montana/KTMF

A Chicago woman visiting family in Montana captivated the nation for nearly a week as she was lost in the woods. Then miraculously, found alive and well with her dog, Mogie. Now Madeline Connelly, her family and members of the search crew are sharing their stories from Maddie's seven days alone in the woods.

"I can't even explain it. You get your child back. How do you explain the joy you feel?" said Madeline's mother Laura.

A lot of hugs on this day. It's a family reunion of sorts. A family that just met a couple of weeks ago under the worst of circumstances.

"It just seemed like a mellow day. She was going to take the dog and go find open water," remembers uncle Marty Connelly. 

Maddie was visiting her uncle. It was Thursday, May 4. But Maddie didn't return Thursday night. And by the time Friday night rolled around, Marty knew something wasn't right.

"You're just feeling it. You could just feel it. We couldn't do much that night though. It was dark," Marty said.

Saturday morning, Maddie's empty car was found at a trail head.

Chris Lewis was a member of a search crew who started looking for Maddie. He knew time was of the essence. 

"When you spend a lot of time in the mountains, every minute that goes by, the chances of survival in that type of environment decrease," he said. Charlie Speicher, another searcher, said the crews grew close to the Connelley family, even though they didn't know Madeline personally.

"We would meet with her parents and Marty every morning, and the same crew. And we'd hug them, and we'd tell them we loved them, and we'd tell them we'd felt confident in our plan," Speicher said.

Dozens of people and several agencies were searching for Madeline, wondering where she was.

"I didn't really know how far I had gone because I was going fast and it was still sunny out and I just kept going and I was just still so stoked," Madeline recalled, "And then I'm all, 'Oh, I don't think I'm in the right place, but this trail has to loop around soon.'"

But it didn't. With no food, no water, and no jacket, Maddie and Mogie hiked for hours.

"I started getting tired, laid down, took a nap, work up. It was nighttime. I was freaked out. It wasn't pitch black, so I kept going. Then it got really dark. I was in snow. I was off a trail and I panicked. And I went to bed," Madeline said. "I woke up early in the morning and I just kept thinking, 'I gotta make it back. Marty is probably wondering where I am."

Madeline was heading deeper into the wilderness. Friday, May 5, came and went. Maddie and Mogie settled in for another long night.

"She'd normally put her head around my neck and we'd just sleep. Every 30 minutes I wake up, probably. Warm up my feet."

Maddie was starting to lose hope by Saturday, May 6.

"After the second day, I was fighting the demons in my head that were, you know, 'Oh you never got to say sorry to that person. You never got to thank that person. You never got to fix that friendship."

But by Sunday, Maddie had a change of heart.

"It was a rough few days, but I just sort of told myself, 'You got to stay positive because this might be it.' And so Mogie and I enjoyed as much as we could out there. And it was so beautiful."

That positive attitude may have saved Maddie's life. But meanwhile, her parents could only pray. It was day six.

"It's cold. It's dark. It's cold. It's dark. Please God keep her alive. Please keep her positive. Keep her warm," Laura said.

Maddie drank water from creeks and ate glacier lilies for food. Then on day 7, it happened. 

"I saw a bunch of heads at the bottom of a hill. I yelled down at them -- I asked, 'Are you guys hikers?' and they said, 'No!' I say, 'Hi.' and they say, 'Are you Madeline Connelly?' And I said, 'Yep.' And I lost it."

Madeline says she wants to return to the trail head where she went missing more than anything, but it has to be on her own terms.

"I think that that is a very special place and I can't wait to get back there. But I want to do that by myself... and with some loved ones maybe. But not at this moment," Maddie said.

At this moment, she just wants to take in all the love from her new family.

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