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Lost Alaska Hikers Phone In For Help

Authorities in Denali National Park have redoubled their search efforts after two missing hikers made contact by cellphone.

Ellane Nelson got a call from her missing daughter this morning as she listened to park officials give a briefing on the search.

The woman expressed astonishment because caller ID indicated it was her missing daughter on the phone.

Park officials thought the women were not carrying a cellphone. However, the caller was indeed Nelson, who reported the women were well and in the Dry Creek area.

Twenty-three-year-old Erica Nelson of Las Vegas said they were safe. She had been missing since Thursday along with her roommate, 25-year-old Abby Flantz of Gaylord, Minnesota.

Park officials located the signal coming from the eastern section of the 100-square mile area they had been searching for more than four days. They told the women to stay put, make themselves visible and signal any helicopters that flew overhead.

The agency dispatched two helicopters to pick the women up, but three hours later, still had not found them. Another helicopter and an airplane are now searching the new area and ten ground searchers and two dog teams were being dropped off. The Park Service says more ground searchers will move to the area if needed.

Flantz and Nelson were located in the Dry Creek drainage in the eastern portion of the search area, National Park Service spokeswoman Kris Fister said.

"We are thrilled," Fister said.

The backpackers left Thursday from the Savage Creek checkpoint just 15 miles from the park entrance, intending to return the next day.

They were spotted by other hikers a mile off the road before they vanished.

When the women did not show up for work Saturday at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, a hotel outside the park, they were reported overdue and the search began.

Searchers scoured a 100-square mile search area that includes dense alder and willow, some black spruce forest, but also miles of open tundra.

They found no indication that the women had left the park but were puzzled that no clothing or gear had been found, or that the women had not somehow signaled the three helicopters or park airplane that flew overhead.

Officials said it was unlikely the women merely decided to extend their camping trip. Nelson was scheduled to fly Sunday night to Houston so she could be maid of honor in her sister's wedding.

The backpackers had a permit to camp in the Mount Healy wilderness unit and their intended destination required a crossing of the Savage River.

Crossing park rivers in swift, cold water can be dangerous and searchers looked for indications of trouble along the banks of the Savage.

Searchers found evidence of grizzly bears in the area but said an animal attack was less of a threat.

The Park Service on Wednesday brought in additional search and rescue teams from Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Yosemite national parks.