Posted by: calloftheandes | July 24, 2013

Desperate Mountaintop Prayer Answered When Lost Tourist Is Rescued

Archive photo shows Quito from Mount Pichincha. In addition to the antennae pictured (at right) others stand near the cross (at left).

Archive photo shows Quito from Mount Pichincha. In addition to the antennae pictured (at right) others stand near the cross (at left).

With a police helicopter somewhere overhead, Jieun Rho attempts to direct searchers to where she shivers in the dark and cold of Pichincha volcano near Ecuador’s capital city Quito.

“I am near the tower,” she tells an English-speaking friend via cellphone in her second effort to be rescued from atop Pichincha, a 14,500 foot peak above Quito. Earlier communication attempts between the South Korean tourist and an emergency services dispatcher at Ecu911 had failed. Rho speaks Korean and English, but not Spanish.

Scratched by underbrush during a fall while exploring, she thought using a landmark like a tower would help. But the search team could not zero in on her. Saying tower was like mentioning a tree in a forest, with several dozen telecommunications towers dotting an area of Mount Pichincha known as Las Antenas.

Chamarro (back to camera) interviews Rho, with translation by Allen Graham.

Chamarro (back to camera) interviews Rho, with translation by Allen Graham.

“I kept saying ‘the tower; the tower’” Rho told journalist Edwin Chamorro, in an interview afterwards on Radio Station HCJB.  What she did not realize was that many towers dot the area. “So they were talking about the other side [of the mountain] and I just knew ‘the tower’ because I couldn’t see anything else,” she added.

That search in the wee hours of June 25 finally failed. Rho´s cellphone had lost power. She had with her, drinking water but no food. Her clothing was light. She said of these completely inadequate provisions for a mountain ascent, “I went there thinking that it would not be like this. I thought it was not that high, so I was wearing short sleeves and pants.”

She had travelled on a cable car to a tourist spot, El Teleférico, the departure point of which begins at an amusement park. After disembarking the gondola at the site’s terminus on the flank of Rucu Pichincha, she began exploring a hiking path. Then suffering a fall, she became disoriented and this began for her, a harrowing experience. The ensuing days saw her wandering the area above the city.

Pichincha has its “rules,” said Carlos Quillupangui, a fireman who patrols the El Teleférico area for wildfires and other emergencies. Those who do not know the trails — the majority of visitors are tourists — should use guides, he told the El Comercio newspaper. Most certainly, getting back to El Teleférico before a fog rolls in is critical, Quillupangui, added in an article titled “Getting Lost on Rucu Pichincha is Easy.

“Cellphones have GPS and that is a big help in finding someone promptly, he said, although the article did not specifically reference Rho’s phone. “A higher priority even than food is having drinking water to stay hydrated.”

After the June 25 rescue effort had failed, Rho hunkered down in the brush with branches covering her to ward off the cold.  “I think I survived because I always thought about my family,” said Rho, who kept herself awake as much as possible.

“Were there times you thought you might die?” asked Chamorro. “I thought about it 10 times . . .” she replied. “Or 10,000 times, because I couldn’t see anyone for four days and it was very deep inside [the mountain canyons] and I thought maybe I would die without saying anything and not be found.”

“Even though I thought lots of times that I might die, I also thought I can’t die because of my loved ones,” said Rho afterwards.

By Thursday, June 27, praying had become a part of her increasingly desperate situation. “I prayed about why it happened because I thought everything would have [a] meaning,” she recounted to Chamorro. “I thought [of how] I lived a very selfish life, so I just want to share my life.”

In those critical moments prior to her rescue, Rho decided that she wanted to share love with others and to help people in need. “After that I saw some people at the antennas, but it was on a different mountain,” she described.

About 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 27 workers with Ecuatronix contacted Ecu911, saying that Rho had been found. Reviewing the moments of her dramatic rescue afterwards, Rho remembered that “it was not close, but I saw some people moving so I shouted. And I felt like they stopped and they were looking at me.”

Patrick Wehrly

Patrick Wehrly

“So I was just shouting again and I was just going down and I couldn’t believe that I met some people because I couldn’t see anyone for four days. And I felt like, okay, maybe it’s because of my prayer,” she said.

Among the first humans she’d seen in days were staff of Radio Station HCJB: Mauricio Patiño, Tatiana de la Torre, Milton Pumisacho, Duval Rueda and Jim Childs, along with their guests, Patrick and Andrea Wehrly.

The Wehrlys, from Montgomery, Texas, are friends and donors of the station. They had visited the antenna site and viewed a new FM transmitter. Greeting Rho, they gave her fluids to drink in the warmth of a pickup truck. Andrea Wehrly wrapped Rho in the HCJB hoodie she had received earlier that day in Quito.  When a police helicopter touched down, Patrick Wehrly carried Rho over and placed her in the chopper.

“We had just prayed for the lost,” said Patrick Wehrly, who accompanied Rho in the studio for the interview with Chamorro. “So Jieun was praying that she would be found, and we were praying for the lost. We were thinking spiritually lost, but physically lost is good.” People in the studio were smiling or even chuckling at Patrick´s analysis of God bringing people along at the right time.

“I believe that this is the work that HCJB has been doing for years,” he summarized. “HCJB has been rescuing people for years – rescuing them from drugs, from alcohol, from marriage problems.”

Jieun Rho

Jieun Rho

Describing her own viewpoint Rho said, “I always felt that there was some thing or someone I could believe in, but it was not specifically a figure.”

Further questioned on whether her days and nights alone on Pichincha elicited within her a belief in God’s existence, she said, “Yeah, I think that is why I prayed.”

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