Misty Carrico and her daughters Caroline, left, and Leia, right, who were lost for 44 hours in the woods of Northern California before being located early Sunday, listened intently to a survival skills presentation by Justin Lehnert, their 4-H project leader on Tuesday in Miranda. Caroline and Leia survived their mishap by using some of the skills Lehnert taught them in classes over the last two years.
When Leia Carrico, 8, and her sister, Caroline, 5, disappeared into the woods around their home near Benbow on March 1, much of the nation held its breath for the next 44 hours until they were found. (Read more here.) But, though their 4-H leaders were worried, too, they say they also knew the girls had something many other children don’t – they had survival skills from a class taught by their Outdoor Adventures 4-H project leader, Justin Lehnert.
Lehnert is being honored in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for his role in teaching Leia and Caroline outdoor skills.
Tuesday, Lehnert, who also owns a nearby business, Redwood Adventures Sports, providing kayaking, paddle-boarding and hiking tours, as well as teaching survival skills, gave a presentation to the regular monthly meeting of Miranda 4-H on basic strategies if lost in the wilderness.
This recognition is in addition to that coming from the National 4-H organization, which is flying him and his wife, all expenses paid, to their Legacy Award gala dinner, where the group honors “those who make life-changing experiences possible” for youth.
Dorina Espinoz, 4-H advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, explained that, at this time, they are "not sure what form the recognition will take ... but he will be receiving something.”
Miranda 4-H club leader Shanna Archibold, said, “I’m really proud that Justin is receiving the recognition he deserves by the national 4-H.” She added that when she learned that Caroline and Leia were missing late Friday, she was worried but not frantic.
“I did know they had been taking the Outdoor Adventures Skills Project, so I knew they would be OK but it was cold and raining,” she explained.
Her main concern was that she knew the two girls were “really fast hikers.”
She noted that she and her now 18-year-old son had been with the girls in their survival classes for the last two years.
“In Outdoor Adventures, [Leia and Caroline] keep up with the older high school boys no problem,” she said. And Archibold knew from the girls’ mother that authorities were starting with a small search circle.
“I just hoped the girls realized they were lost soon enough and remembered to stay put,” she said, adding that she believed the girls would likely be alright.
Justin Lehnert pointed out how anyone lost in the wilderness without specialized gear could still help searchers by using sticks to make an arrow to show their direction of travel.
Even though it was cold and rainy the first night they were missing, she was comforted knowing the girls are “fully capable, independent young women” with the information they needed to make it through this difficult experience.
Once the girls had been found, Archibold made arrangements for Lehnert to give a presentation on survival skills to their local 4-H monthly meeting, which was only two days after the girls were found.
As between 40 to 50 people crowded into the room Tuesday night, Leia and Caroline scampered around, playing with their friends. The girls seemed normal and happy, considering their two-day ordeal.
Thank you cards were passed out for the youth and their leaders to sign for the dozens of agencies and volunteer groups that assisted in the search.
The room initially hushed as Lehnert began speaking on survival. He laid out a simple list of ways to be safe even when on relatively minor excursions, like going to the mall.
Tell someone where you are going, he advised. Then the search area can be narrowed down. You can be found more quickly if someone knows the general area you were headed and how long you planned to be there.
Carrying a cell phone to communicate is often the quickest way to coordinate with others, he said.
If you do get lost, try to stay calm, he suggested. Stay positive. Panic can cause you to get hurt and make the situation worse. He suggested that singing, reading anything, even a driver’s license, and telling stories can all help.
While lost, Leia and Caroline had followed that suggestion. Leia said she and Caroline had loudly chanted nursery rhymes, partly in hopes searchers would hear them, and that she told her sister stories to calm her when Caroline was frightened in the dark.
Leia Carrico, one of the two sisters who were lost last weekend, holds a set of flashcards with shelter building advice given to her by her instructor, Jason Lehnert.
Lehnert also pointed out that staying put can be key to helping searchers locate you.
“Only move if the situation is becoming worse or unsafe,” he said. Once the girls had accepted they were lost, they did stop trying to get home and settled in one place (about 1.4 miles from their house as the crow flies, though the girls had walked a much longer distance than that).
If you can’t stay put, he said, create signs for the searchers.
“If you have to move, drag your feet,” he said, demonstrating for the club members. Scuff marks accidentally left by the girls helped searchers locate them. Or, Lehnert said, you can break branches. The girls had done this while trying to make a fire and their bundle had also helped searchers narrow down an area to search.
He suggested making stick arrows to point the direction of travel.
Make it easy for searchers to find you, he advised. When preparing for wilderness excursions, consider wearing bright clothing and carrying a reflective emergency blanket. He suggested spreading these over a bush. The girls were wearing bright colored boots, which were the first things seen by the men who found them.
While lighting a fire is ideal to signal for help, he said, that task can be difficult for all but the most experienced woodsmen. He suggested carrying a flashlight or a mirror or even a metal first aid box with a shiny surface that could be used to signal aircraft or far away searchers that might not be able to hear you call.
Carry a whistle, Lehnert suggested. They can be heard over rivers and creeks. Leia and Caroline both said that while they could hear searchers at times, the searchers couldn’t hear them. A whistle might have helped attract attention.
Finding water can be crucial, Lehnert pointed out. Three to five days can be the limit of most people’s ability to function without it. “You can go three weeks or more without food,” he said. “But you must have water."
Justin Lehnert holds up a survival blanket during the Miranda 4-H meeting.
He suggested several ways for collecting clean water, including sealing leaves in ziplock bags and using a rock in a reflecting emergency blanket to collect condensation.
Lehnert also suggested licking condensation off of non-poisonous leaves. Lea and Caroline had licked water off of the huckleberry bush they were using as shelter. And even though they were lost more than 44 hours, they were only slightly dehydrated.
Even though the amount collected might be small, Lehnert said, “any water is better than none.”
Then he addressed finding shelter. He talked about finding areas protected from the rain, including under a log or under a sheltering tree or bush with thick branches. Leia and Caroline had used both techniques to keep dry, which helped keep them from hypothermia.
After the talk, Lehnert passed out survival blankets, emergency kits and other useful survival items to the youth.
Lehnert will be offering classes on basic survival training on March 16 and March 30, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Redwood Adventure Sports, 6751 Avenue of the Giants in Miranda, where he will be discussing topics like what to do when lost, shelter building, finding safe water and other survival skills. (The cost of the class is $10 per person, with 20 percent of proceeds donated to Miranda 4-H.)
“I asked him to start teaching these workshops [beyond 4-H] so the skills will be more available in out community,” Archibold said.
She added that she was extremely proud of Lehnert, who has been teaching the Outdoor Adventure’s project for two years but she said, “As much as he is receiving all the recognition right now, I also want to recognize and thank all the 4-H leaders and other youth organization volunteers who give kids life skills and confidence.”
Contact your local 4-H for more information on programs available in your area. For more information on 4-H and its programs, click here.
The Carrico family ad Delbert Chumley, one of the Piercy Volunteer Fire Department crew members who found the girls, sat down for an interview Monday afternoon at the Benbow Inn, less than 24 hours after the the girls were found. View the entire interview below.
Editor's note: This story was originally published at www.kymkemp.com and is reposted here with permission.