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Posted on: August 16, 2019

Coordinated rescue mission finds missing Chapel Hill woman alive

Photo of missing woman being loaded onto ambulance

A coordinated effort led by Orange County Emergency Services and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office resulted in a happy ending in the search for a missing Chapel Hill woman. More than 300 people from 36 different agencies, including trained personnel from as far away as Spartanburg, S.C., and Craven County, assisted in the search.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office announced Friday morning that Maryanne Rosenman, 75, who had been missing for more than two days, was found alive by search crews shortly after 11 a.m. She was found in a drainage ditch in a heavily wooded area between her home and where she was last seen by a motorist.

Orange County Emergency Services – Emergency Management Division and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) coordinated the intensive search effort. Rescuers concentrated in the area near her home, following national best practice, said Orange County Emergency Management Coordinator Kirby Saunders. "Fifty-six different teams went out in the field covering 1,560 acres. That's approximately a 1.2 mile radius."

Saunders said she was found about a half-mile from her home, about 400 feet off Whitfield Road.

“Seventy-five percent of dementia patients are found within 1.2 miles of their last known point and ninety-five percent are located within 5.1 miles," said Saunders.

Saunders said rescuers had been searching non-stop for 53 hours when she was found. Officials had to suspend the search twice for severe weather, but those stoppages lasted less than an hour, he said. Search personnel had to deal with rugged terrain that included ravines with drops greater than fifty feet, thick briars, high heat and humidity, thunderstorms and copperhead season. Saunders said none of the rescuers suffered any injuries or issues during the search.

Canines, helicopters and drones were used in the search, but the thick tree canopy limited the effectiveness of the aerial assets, Saunders said.

Saunders said Orange County is well-known for sending emergency management personnel to other areas of the state impacted by hurricanes and other disasters, and that some of those jurisdictions sent help to Orange County to repay the favor. Saunders said the search team that found her consisted of personnel from Pender County and local law enforcement.

"The family has been through a lot," said Orange County Sheriff Charles Sheriff Blackwood. "These people have been through it for the last three days. They always said they had a little hope. This is as good an outcome as we could have ever hoped for."

Blackwood credited Saunders for keeping the operation focused on the area around her home, even though officers had received tips of possible sightings in other areas.

"The urgency never changed," said Saunders. "This was full rescue mode from the very beginning. We are proud today that we are giving Ms. Rosenman another chance at life."

Saunders thanked the many first responders from other agencies who volunteered in the search and said the inspiration to keep looking came from the close-knit community's motto: "So others may live."