Missing Fremont couple found in Lake County

January 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A Fremont couple is back safe in the Bay Area, one week after they disappeared while camping in the Lake County wilderness.

Ryan Barrett and Viola Liu were spotted Saturday by a helicopter crew hired by their family, some 25 miles from their last known location. They celebrated with family members Saturday night in Corte Madera.

It was a moment they worried would not happen. Just one hour before they hugged Saturday night, Ginny Bratlie told ABC7 what little hope she had had this past week of ever seeing her son again.

"I think everyone was a little more optimistic about the end result than I was," she said. "I had a hard time trying to stay up, trying to stay positive."

Barrett and Liu set out for Lake County last Saturday. Then, they got caught in the storm.

"We went camping for two days," said Liu. "But, what we were hoping would be a great outing turned into a week of just horror."

As they tried to cross a creek, they realized it had turned into a raging river. The cab of their truck filled up with water and they knew they were done.

"We broke into a cabin up there and they had a big giant can of tomato sauce. So, we ate tomato soup for about three or four days and popped some popcorn, and that kept us going," Lie recalled.

"We didn't have phone reception," explained Barrett. "We didn't know what time it was for the whole week."

Meanwhile, their relatives figured out they were missing, but did not know where they were camping until they traced a credit card purchase to Lake County. Still, Fremont police and other agencies said they could not send out a helicopter without more specific information.

"My one sister called me, she goes, 'We're going to go ahead and hire the helicopter.' I said, 'I don't know if we really want to do that yet.' I was kind of dragging my feet. Then, she told me the price of the helicopter and I was like, 'No way. We are totally waiting on this,'" said Bratlie.

They eventually decided to go for it. Within 30 minutes of take-off, they spotted the missing campers. It was the best $2,400 the family ever spent.

"When we heard the helicopter, we just dropped to our knees and the tears were just coming down, just of relief. It was amazing," Liu said.

As for the cabin they broke into, Liu says she left a long note explaining what happened and even left their email addresses in case they wanted to get in touch.