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Woman, Her 8-Year-Old Son Found After Being Lost 3 Days at Landfill

June 08, 1999|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN and KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Using infrared sensors mounted on a helicopter, rescuers found a missing woman in the Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills on Monday evening, nearly eight hours after her young son was found wandering alone in the dump.

Ngoc Tuy Thi Phan, 39, of Westminster, was discovered about 8:10 p.m. at the bottom of a ravine filled with brush and trees, three days after she left her son in their disabled car to go find help.

"She was surprised and she was staring straight ahead," said Fred Koegler, a member of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team that pulled Phan from the ravine. "I think she was dazed from all the activity. She drank water out of the creek, and had a bag full of leaves she had sucked on for moisture."

Another team member, Mark Millis, said Phan was "was incoherent, and her clothes were torn. She had no shoes, no socks, no covering whatsoever on her feet. She was muddy but it didn't look like she was bleeding.

"She was kind of apprehensive about us getting her out," Millis added. "She wasn't sure who we were or what we're going to do."

Phan apparently had driven onto the landfill property with her son Friday after an argument with her father, Los Angeles Police Lt. Anthony Alba said.

But it wasn't until Monday at 6 a.m. that Sonny Garcia, a caretaker at the landfill, found Phan's 8-year-old son wandering near Garcia's trailer.

The boy, Richard Phan, was "dusty, with dirt all over him, hungry and thirsty," said Arney Berghoff, a spokesman for Browning Ferris Industries, which owns the landfill.

The woman suffers from a mental condition and had not been taking her medication, Alba said.

Richard told rescuers that his mother's car, a 1991 Honda Accord, broke down on a dirt access road, prompting the two to look for help. When Richard became tired, his mother took him back to the car and told him to stay put while she resumed the search, Alba said.

By late Monday afternoon, volunteer search and rescue teams, aided by bloodhounds and horse units, joined Los Angeles police and Los Angeles County sheriff's units in the search. Alba estimated that more than 100 people were involved.

Richard was in intensive care at Queen of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where he was being treated for dehydration, exposure and minor cuts.

Phan was taken by ambulance to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, where officials could not immediately state her condition.

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