James was last seen on the evening of Jan. 9 in Oroville, Calif., causing the Butte County Sheriff’s Office to issue a “silver alert” showing a picture of her smiling and an image of her SUV. The 5-foot-tall woman “suffers from dementia and may have become disoriented,” an alert stated.
Authorities spent more than 100 hours searching for James with helicopters, snowmobiles and other methods, with a winter storm looming over their efforts.
“We knew if we were going to find her and find her alive, we were going to have to do it really quickly,” Capt. Dan Newman of Butte County Search and Rescue told KCRA.
By Tuesday, mountain snow was causing reduced visibility on roads and slippery commutes, the National Weather Service in Sacramento reported.
James was missing for five days by then, and white-out conditions were expected to hit the area, the Weather Service warned.
Her loved ones were growing worried about her rescue.
Laura Powell, James’s stepdaughter, told KTXL she feared James was dead by Wednesday.
“It just felt like we were doomed,” she told the station.
Authorities and search crews were also fearing the worst.
Finding James was a challenge for search crews because the silver SUV didn’t give much contrast against the snow, according to Newman.
“It really is a needle in the haystack,” Newman told the station.
When Sheriff Honea received news from his staff that James’s SUV had been found, he thought they were going to find her dead inside, he told reporters.
Earlier today, BCSO’s helicopter, “H1,” once again was in the air searching for Paula Beth James, age 68, of Oroville. While H1 searched by air, BCSO Detectives were searching by ground. Paula is still missing, she was last seen Thursday, January 9, 2020 in Oroville. If you see Paula or her vehicle, please call 911. See our last post for pictures/vehicle description.
#ButteSheriffPosted by Butte County Sheriff on Monday, January 13, 2020
A search helicopter spotted the vehicle off a roadway, which caused the crew to investigate further, he told reporters. The helicopter hovered above the SUV before landing nearby so rescuers could hike toward it, he said.
There was no response to the hovering, which caused searchers to doubt they would find James alive, Honea said.
“It’s unusual for someone to be missing this long, especially in an environment like that and survive,” he said.
James had survived. With an empty bottle of water near her, James was cold, hungry and had been without food and water for at least a day or two, Honea told reporters. She was keeping herself warm with floor mats, but there were no extra blankets.
She was happy to see rescuers and told them she hoped they had brought a blanket, Powell told KTXL.
“It was a great day and just a great bit of news,” Honea said.