BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. -- A 68-year-old woman missing six days has been found alive, according to the Butte County Sheriff's Office.
Around noon Wednesday, a sheriff's office helicopter spotted the Toyota 4Runner Paula Beth James was last seen driving. It was buried in snow.
For six long days and six sleepless nights, James’ stepdaughter, Laura Powell, feared the worst.
“This morning, we thought she was probably dead,” Powell told FOX40.
James’ picture could be seen on flyers passed around her town as authorities issued a Silver Alert.
“Everybody was nervous. We were all freaking out," neighbor Andrea Mox said.
She was last seen Thursday around 7 p.m. Officials said she has dementia and can become disoriented.
As temperatures dropped, so did the hope of finding James alive.
“It just felt like we were doomed,” Powell said. “So it was just literally a miracle that those guys found her in just the nick of time.”
Each day, the Butte County sheriff’s helicopter kept flying, looking for any sign of James.
“One of the sergeants thought he spotted a vehicle that was matching the description of the silver Toyota 4Runner driven by Paula Beth James,” said Megan McMann with the Sheriff’s Office.
Buried underneath layers of snow in Butte Meadows was James’ SUV with her inside.
“She was awake and conscious, and she looked at them and she said, ‘I’m very cold, I hope you brought a blanket,’” Powell explained.
“I was shocked and really amazed. She’s a pretty tough little lady,” Mox said.
Her family said she stayed warm by periodically turning on the car for heat and staying warm with moving blankets and floor mats that were in the SUV.
They say her rescue came just in time.
“I really want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to the sheriff’s department. They went above and beyond, and we really appreciate them for that,” Powell told FOX40.
After days in the cold, James’ family told FOX40 she developed some frostbite and was severely dehydrated. But they said she was doing well and is expected to be OK.
On Wednesday night, Powell and her sisters were holding their mother a little tighter and treating each minute with her as a gift.
“I just am so thankful for the relief that everyone is going to have tonight knowing that she’s safe and warm and fed and we'll get to bring her home soon,” Powell said.