A 65-year-old woman declared "missing and presumed drowned" after being swept away in the swift current of the Colorado River turned up 20 hours later lost and begging for help in downtown Blythe, authorities said Thursday.
"She wandered about the area for 12 to 15 hours . . . ," said Lt. Mike Newman of the La Paz County, Ariz., Sheriff's Department. "We understand that Blythe police officers remember seeing her walking around town all day but had no reason to question her."
Gail Anderson of Cathedral City, Calif., had been reported missing by her husband, George Anderson, at 8 a.m. Wednesday, about two hours after she slipped and fell into the river beneath the Interstate 10 bridge at Ehrenberg, Ariz., three miles from Blythe, where they were visiting, Newman said.
"He indicated to us that his wife was swept away and that he waited around for her and she didn't return," Newman said.
"We sent a team of divers in there but didn't expect to find anything because the current is so swift," Newman said. "They dove for several hours and then terminated the search to try again Thursday."
Meanwhile, the woman had apparently fought her way to shore somewhere down river and then wandered into Blythe, Newman said.
At 3 a.m. Thursday, Blythe Police Officer Rocky Milano spotted an elderly woman talking to a younger woman in the parking lot of a convenience store and using "body language suggesting there might be something wrong," Blythe Police Sgt. Robert Grady said.
"The younger woman said, 'Hey, this gal needs some help,' and then took off," Grady said. "The older woman explained to the officer that she was a missing person of sorts--that her husband would think she drowned in the river."
The officer took Anderson to a doughnut shop where she was treated to doughnuts and milk. There, she provided a description of her husband's car, which was located at a Rodeway Inn motel a few blocks away, Grady said.
"We woke her husband up and told him that we found his wife," Grady said. "Then we called La Paz County sheriff's and told them to stop their search."
The Andersons were then reunited. They could not be reached for comment Thursday.
"We always classify these cases as 'missing, presumed drowned' on the outside chance something like this might happen," Newman said.