10-year-old girl rescued after surviving 24 hours alone in ‘rugged’ mountains

A 10-year-old girl who came to the U.S. from Afghanistan just two years ago was rescued after surviving 24 hours alone in a “rugged and remote” mountain area in Washington state after she got lost during a family gathering, authorities said.

Shunghla Mashwani was reported missing in the Cle Elum River Valley, east of Seattle, shortly before 2 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET) on Sunday, the Kittitas County Sheriff’s office said in a news release days later.

Her loved ones said her extended family had been gathering at the Cathedral Pass Trailhead on Fish Lake Road and playing in the woods near a footbridge over the Cle Elum River, the sheriff’s office said.

When the family walked back across the river to a parking area to eat lunch, they realized Shunghla was missing. Around 20 adults were with the group and they immediately went back and started searching for the 10-year-old, the sheriff’s office said.

There was no cell signal in the valley and the family had been looking for the child for nearly 2 hours before a passerby saw the commotion and offered to use the Starlink phone at their nearby cabin to call 911.

Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the scene and “launched a search immediately,” coordinating with Kittitas County Search & Rescue volunteers, the sheriff’s office said.

The search was made difficult due to the “steep, rugged and remote” nature of the site, which was filled with dense trees and undergrowth cut through by the fast-running Cle Elum River, authorities said.

Personnel from several counties joined in the search as the hours went by, with ground searchers, helicopters, drones, and K9 units deployed in the effort to find Shunghla, along with swift water rescue teams from several counties who feared Shunghla might have been swept away by a current in the fast-moving river, the sheriff’s office said.

It was not until 3 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) Monday, over 24 hours after the child went missing, that two ground volunteers found Shunghla alive – and with only minor scrapes, the sheriff’s office said.

The 10-year-old was found about 1.5 miles south of where she was last seen, down by the west side of the river, authorities said. Snohomish County Swiftwater personnel used an inflatable rescue watercraft to bring the child safely to the east side of the river, where she was reunited with her father.

The sheriff’s office said the girl’s family had come to the U.S. from Afghanistan just two years ago and told searchers they like to spend time in the high backcountry “because it reminds them of home.” The family would have left the country around the same time that the U.S. military was completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

Shunghla told her family and rescuers that she had suddenly found herself lost and alone when the family was traveling back toward the footbridge and she couldn’t find the bridge on her own, the sheriff’s office said.

“She said she knew it was the right thing to follow the river,” proving to be an “extraordinarily resourceful and resilient 10-year-old,” the sheriff’s office said.

The sheriff’s office said it was thankful that the search had a happy ending and expressed gratitude for the “tremendous outpouring of assistance and resources” that made it possible.

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