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Posted March 31, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Lost 90-year-old woman survives a night in woods

Dorothy Seaman
Dorothy Seaman, 90, looks outside the living room window of her Woodstock home on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

90-year-old Dorothy Seaman pets her golden retriever
90-year-old Dorothy Seaman pets her golden retriever "Honey" inside her Woodstock home on Monday. Seaman spent Saturday night in the forest in Fort Valley after becoming separated from her daughter and son-in-law and her golden retriever "Honey". Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

FORT VALLEY -- As darkness and chill settled in and she sat alone on a tree stump beside Passage Creek on Saturday night, 90-year-old Dorothy Seaman realized she was in a "pickle."

"It's quite a story," Seaman began Monday afternoon, as she recounted her overnight ordeal in the woods.

Seaman, her daughter and son-in-law, Cathy and Ken Vandersluys, took a late- afternoon walk with their dog at Elizabeth Furnace. The Vandersluyses are faster walkers than Seaman.

"All of a sudden, I realized, I don't see them anymore," Seaman said.

She took a path she thought would lead her back to their parked car.

"So, I walked on the path, and I kept going, thinking I would land back where the car was, and I walked, and I walked, and I walked, and I never came to the car," Seaman said. "After a very long time walking, I realized that it was beginning to get dusky and dark."

Meanwhile, the Vandersluyses, who live in Woodstock with Seaman, were becoming worried.

"My mom's 90 years old, but she's spry," Mrs. Vandersluys said. "We started running the trails back in there. We couldn't find her."

Soon, the police were called. Mrs. Vandersluys was overwhelmed and amazed by the response. Shenandoah County Sheriff's Lt. Billy Rice was the first to arrive.

"It was amazing -- at that point, they pretty much took over," Mrs. Vandersluys said. "All of a sudden, these people started pouring in.

"Next thing you knew, search dogs arrived. They had a bloodhound come out. There were search and rescue people coming in. You could see lights all over the mountain. I was really impressed."

Besides various canine units, law-enforcement agencies and search and rescue organizations, fire and rescue companies arrived at the scene, Mrs. Vandersluys said.

"We were up all night long," she said. "All three dogs pointed to the water. They thought she had fallen in and drowned."

A Shenandoah County mobile command unit was assisted by personnel from Harrisonburg-Rockingham County's emergency communications center. Search and rescue teams arrived with boats and ATVs, Mrs. Vandersluys said. The Salvation Army even arrived to provide breakfast Sunday morning.

"We were completely amazed that all these resources were in this area," she said.

While the search was being mounted, Seaman, who has a pacemaker, was wondering how she was going to find her way back in the dark.

"I was in a pickle," she said. "I was in a bad situation."

She was following a path along Passage Creek when she saw a tree stump.

"I sat there to think through what I was going to do, and I realized it was getting darker and I wouldn't be able to see the path without a flashlight or something," Seaman said. "I sat there all night long."

Not dressed for a night outside, she got chilly. Several times, she saw police cars.

"I kept yelling, "Help!" at the top of my lungs, but evidently they didn't hear it," Seaman said.

Maj. Scott Proctor said the noise of the creek drowned out any sound.

"I sat there, and you know, I decided I've got to stay awake, if I go asleep, I'm likely to fall into the water," Seaman said. "Finally, after a long night of just sitting there wondering what to do, it started getting light."

Seaman followed the path some more, and came across a cottage with a man outside. He fed her and called rescuers to come pick her up.

She was taken to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital to be checked, and taken home.

"I've been here ever since," Seaman said. "I'm still recovering from all that. I'm getting caught up."

Any time a missing person is found safe -- no matter by who -- it's a success, Proctor said. He estimated that a total of 100 people -- as many as 50 at any one time -- were involved in the weekend's search.

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