Friday night I was sitting on the couch editing video. We’d just tucked the kids in, front porch light off, door locked.
Then someone knocked.
I opened the door to find an elderly man in cammo. A little strange, but not the first time.
“My sister’s gone,” he said, bewildered.
At first I was worried this 80+year-old gentleman had consumed a bit too much of the good stuff. Then Jerry introduced himself and explained that his sister is Joan, our 79-year-old next door neighbor. Jerry was visiting from another county, scouting his sister’s property for hunting stands, when he observed her walking across a field adjacent to both our homes, and then disappear into the thick brush.
“It’s been over an hour,” Jerry added, “and I don’t know what to do.”
While I wasn’t at DEFCON 5 yet, I instantly felt this could be serious. Joan was in fantastic health for her age, and mentally sharp.
I threw some jeans on and walked out with Jerry to scout the area he’d last seen her. Within about 3 minutes of calling her name, it was clear that she’d gotten turned around in the dusk and ventured right into the middle of the 5,000 Nature Conservancy that we live amongst.
I pulled out my iPhone, and just before I dialed 911, my brain went through a series of scenarios, ranging from the embarrassment of calling out the whole town, only to find Joan in her backyard under headphones, to mobilizing a huge man hunt that ended in…
…I blocked that thought out, and hit “Call.”
Less that fifteen minutes later, I was on the back of a tractor with a flashlight and Google Maps, while my buddy Matt Parker worked the wheel. That’s when I started hearing the coyotes; pushed that thought out of my head, too.
Two hours later, Matt and I were in the lead with a NY State Police K-9 Unit covering 40 acres of thick brush on foot.
Four hours later, the temperature dropped below 40°F, and we knew Joan was not dressed for an overnight stay in the woods. The pressure was mounting.
A second K-9 Unit joined the hunt, as did Joan’s son, Bill Jr., as well as local Volunteer Fire Departments. We were going to find Joan. Alive. We just had to.
The big breakthrough came when I suddenly realized I had an old mobile number on my iPhone. For Joan. I doubted it worked, and no one answered. But the lead investigator called it in to have it pinged. Less than five minutes later, he got a call back that showed the phone was plotting.
Joan was moving.
Almost two miles from her house.
The three teams split up, now two K-9 Units and our tractor team that included Matt, Bill and a Trooper, all beating paths through heavy brush and dense forrest, hoping and praying we’d find Joan.
Just after 1:00 AM, we got the call from Team 1.
“We got her!”
Bill dropped to his knees like a rock and started thanking Jesus. We all thanked Jesus.
By the time we arrived on the scene, two Troopers were escorting Joan out of the woods amongst a group of Firemen. Joan had on her trademark smile, and was soaked up to her waist.
I snapped a quick pic of the team loading Joan into the ambulance. Mild hypothermia, and banged up knee. But not a scratch on her.
It was a miracle.
“I was praying all night,” said Trooper Hogan.
“Me, too,” I said. “So grateful God answered our prayers. He knew right where she was.”
And even used iPhones and dogs to help us out.
“I love it when a night ends like this and not another way,” said another detective. He paused, and then we all shuddered, knowing how it could have ended.
I know I speak for the Blance’s when i offer my most sincere thanks to the care and professionalism of the 911 Dispatcher, the NY State Troopers and Volunteer Fire Departments that organized this search.
This afternoon, after church, Joan’s daughter, Sherry, stopped by and hugged me for a long time, tears in her eyes.
“I’m not sure what to say,” she said. “Just, thank you. Thank you.”
“Honestly, Sherry,” I said, “I just answered the door. God did the rest.”
Isn’t that how everything good in life works?
[Below: Bill Blance Jr. escorts his mother, Joan Blance, the rest of the way to the ambulance. She insisted on walking herself. Trooper Hogan in the foreground.]