The mystery surrounding the details of how a missing hiker was found alive has deepened as her sister speaks out about the ordeal.
Holly Courtier went missing in Zion National Park in the US state of Utah for 12 days after she was dropped off at the Grotto parking area around 1.30pm on October 6 by a private shuttle bus.
She was scheduled to be picked up after 4.30pm, but she never showed up.
After the 38-year-old was reported missing on October 8, a frantic search for her began, with a GoFundMe page raising almost A$17,000 to help fund rescue efforts.
Ms Courtier was found alive on October 18 after search crews received a tip from a park visitor who reported seeing her.
Discrepancies in Holly Courtier’s story
However, days after she was found, Sgt Darrell Cashin, whose search and rescue team assisted in finding Ms Courtier, raised questions over the hiker’s version of events.
He claimed she could not have drunk the water from the Virgin River near where she set up camp to await her rescue as the water was toxic – but she also would have died within two to three days without any water at all.
Her family had also said Ms Courtier hit her head and was so weak she could not take more than a step or two without collapsing, preventing her from seeking help.
However, Zion National Park reported that Ms Courtier could walk on her own and only needed minimal assistance after she was located.
“If we had found somebody in that condition with that kind of severe head injury, we would have at minimum called for a transport agency to check her out,” Sgt Cashin told ABC4.
“Physically, she seemed to be in a condition that did not warrant an ambulance.”
Family defend story of missing hiker
Speaking to Utah news publication The Spectrum, Ms Courtier’s family said they had been copping hate mail since Sgt Cashin said the story didn’t add up, with some claiming the ordeal was a hoax.
Ms Courtier’s sister Jaime Courtier Strong however has defended their version of events.
“There are not holes in the story, there are no discrepancies. It just got blown very out of proportion,” she said.
She added her sister was having a “mental breakdown”, as she left for the Zion National Park in the middle of the night without taking her phone or telling anybody where she was going.
Ms Strong also addressed speculation over Ms Courtier’s water consumption, and said as the Virgin River was toxic the hiker would swish the water around in her mouth before spitting it out.
Sgt Cashin also questioned the location of where the woman was found – about 800 metres from the Grotto parking area.
“If she’s by the Virgin River, she’s down in the valley, not in the back country up in the plateaus and the peaks,” Sgt Cashin told ABC4.
“She’s in that main part of the canyon, which always has thousands of people walking up and down those trails. I’m sure people walked by yelling for her.”
But Ms Strong said while Ms Courtier had seen people while she was lost, she could not yell out to them as her mouth was so dry from being dehydrated.
‘Things have just been twisted’
Ms Strong told TODAY her sister was found on the day rescue teams were preparing to wind back the search, and addressed the statement as to why her sister could walk out on her own despite being dehydrated and not having eaten for almost two weeks.
“It’s just so blown out of proportion,” she said.
‘When you think you’re going to die and you see a ranger, she said she literally got giddy inside because she knew she was going to see her daughter and her family, so you definitely have some adrenaline working for you at that point.”
Despite Ms Courtier not needing the ambulance, Ms Strong said the family took her to hospital.
“She was very scared and traumatised, and she wanted to leave the park with me and my husband and her daughter, and we drove her straight to the emergency room. So things have just been twisted,” she added.
On the GoFundMe page, Ms Strong addressed speculation over Ms Courtier’s disappearance and said money raised was being used to reimburse family and friends for equipment purchased, hotel rooms, car rentals and food during the search.
Money is also going towards Ms Courtier’s medical care and therapy costs moving forward.
She said anybody with concerns however could request a refund.
“We appreciate everyone’s continued support. This fundraiser is, and always was, 100 per cent legitimate,” the page says.
“However, we acknowledge and respect people’s concerns over the many inaccuracies portrayed by the press and social media regarding Holly’s ordeal.
“Whomever has concerns about our use of their donation is welcome to request a refund without any objection from the family.”
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