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Missing Couple Rescue A 'Miracle;' Pair Survived Wilderness By Drinking Puddle Water

INVERNESS (CBS SF) — The Palo Alto couple found Saturday in a densely-wooded area in Marin County about a half-mile from their Inverness rental cabin, was in such good spirits about being rescued, Ian Irwin, 72, was singing as rescue helicopters arrived, according to authorities.

Ian Irwin (left) and Carol Kiparsky in hospital
Ian Irwin (left) and Carol Kiparsky in hospital

Carol Kiparsky, 77, and her husband Ian Irwin, 72, were yelling for help when they were found in thick underbrush at 10:10 a.m. Saturday in a drainage area near Tomales Bay. The pair survived the week by drinking from a puddle.

"This is the best possible ending," said Jonas Irwin, a son of the rescued couple.

"They went out Valentine's Day to look at the sunset, it got dark, they took a wrong turn,' said John Kiparsky, another son of the rescued couple. "They found themselves in trouble and they kept going.They were moving, trying to get to a road, trying to get to water, thinking water leads you to civilization. And, as it happens, when they were found they were very close to a road but on the other side of a thicket."

"They are in great spirits and want to thank every single person who has kept them in their thoughts," the Sheriff's Office said in a tweet about 2 1/2 hours after a news conference announcing the couple had been found about 10:10 a.m. Saturday in thick underbrush in a drainage area near Tomales Bay.

They were found in vegetation so thick that rescuers had to crawl to get to them, said Marin County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Brenton Schneider. They were talking when rescuers found them and they were airlifted to a hospital, he said.

"They are doing OK," Schneider said, adding that they were both suffering from slight hypothermia, since temperatures had recently dipped into the 30s at night in the area.

"My dad is very scratched up," said Jonas Irwin. "Because the brush was so intense in this area, he was laying his body flat into that awful thorny crap - with poison oak, you name it - so that Carol could go over him. That's chivalry, right? I hope that's still alive in the next generation," he said.

"They thought this was the end for them," Schneider said at a Saturday-afternoon press conference. "Carol and Ian's survival is a miracle. Their family members are ecstatic, to say the least."

The couple went for a hike on Valentine's Day, when they were last seen at the rental on Via De La Vista in Inverness/Sea Haven.

"They got lost in the dark and they don't know what happened after that," Schneider said.

They were missing eight days without even a jacket. At night, the temperature plunged below freezing. They survived by drinking water from a pond and eating sparse vegetation.

Family described the couple as "avid hikers" but Schneider noted that Irwin was hampered by an ankle injury.


Quincy Webster, a volunteer with Marin Search and Rescue, and a golden retriever named Groot found them.

Webster said that when he reached the couple, they said, "Thank God you found us, we're so happy."

"We heard voices," said Webster. "First we thought it was another team. But then they started yelling, 'help.' We looked at each other and we were like, 'that's them.' They were like, 'thank God you found us. We're so happy.'"

The couple was very cold and Webster took all of the gear from his pack to help warm them.They had no food or water with them when they went for the hike and they were only wearing light evening wear, Schneider said.

Kiparsky had no shoes on when she was found and authorities believe the couple may have fallen at some point.

When the helicopters arrived to lift them out, they were in such good spirits, Ian Irwin began singing.

"It was an old Blues song called, 'I'd rather drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log', which is kind of what they did," said John Kiparsky.

At one point Kiparsky told rescuers that she had gone for help and used her scarf to tie on a branch to find her way back, Schneider said.

Palo Alto Couple Rescued in Marin County
Carol Kiparsky and her husband Ian Irwin were located Saturday morning and taken by helicopter to a hospital. (CBS)

Their disappearance sparked a large search-and-rescue effort involving hundreds. On Friday, the search was described as a "recovery effort," as hopes for their survival had waned.

That explains the delayed reaction when Jonas Irwin was informed his parents were alive.

"Brendan texted me and it said, 'We found them!' Three words. So I'm thinking initially, 'all right, we've got bodies and this is better than nothing.' But then I read it again and it said, 'we've found them and they're alive!' And I'm like … I screamed! And my wife came running in and she's like, 'what, what, what? And I'm like, 'they found them and they're alive!'"

"Thank you, thank you to everyone," John Kiparsky said. "Everyone who was thinking about them. Who was searching for them. There are going to be parties in Palo Alto, I can tell you that. The town is going to light up the day they roll in."

Their disappearance sparked a large search-and-rescue effort involving hundreds. On Friday, the search was described as a "recovery effort" as hopes for their survival had waned.

Irwin is a leading Parkinson's disease researcher. Kiparsky is a prominent linguist and author of several books on language, including 1975's "The Gooficon: A Repair Manual for English."

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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