Santa Cruz Mountains hiker knew she'd be rescued


A man and his son found 59-year-old Debra Collins on Saturday. She had been walking in Fallen Creek State Park, near Ben Lomond, when she fell into a ravine and could not get out.

Collins was in a wheelchair when she came to speak to the media. Her legs and feet are very swollen, but otherwise she has lots of energy and is in very good spirits.

Collins is a regular hiker and mountain biker. She says she left her home on the Nov. 28 for a hike that should have lasted two hours or so. She packed water, several layers of clothes, and that's about it. She didn't take her cell phone, wallet with her, nor did she leave a note. She says her only hope was that someone would find her because she knew she couldn't make it out of the ravine on her own.

"Each night when it would start getting dark, it was really difficult because it was so silent, so isolated, so quiet," said Collins. "I kept thinking, 'I'm going to hear my name. I am going to hear my name.' And I knew, I knew that people were looking for me and I knew that people cared enough to stay with it."

Long time friend, Tom Saviano, reported her missing two days later.

"I wasn't about to give up, but I felt by about the third day, it was very frustrating to think that I was the only person looking for her... period, in a forest I had not been to before," said Saviano.

Then, on Saturday, a man and his 7-year-old son found Collins.

"I just got a whim to go on an unmarked side trail and we walked on that side trail for about five or 10 minutes and there she was off to the side," said rescuer Joachim Deguara.

Collins friends are critical of the job the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department did. They say authorities never organized a full scale search and the department refused to deviate from textbook protocol.

"Their criteria was, 'Well, we don't have a car in the parking lot. We don't have anything to indicate she's at this park versus another park, so we don't want to send out the cavalry to rescue somebody when we don't know exactly where they are,'" said Saviano.

County officials insist without a specific location to search, sending dozens of volunteers to scour massive parks like Henry Cowell or Fall Creek could've been dangerous. Collins sees their point.

"They were trying to protect themselves and not get other people involved that could possibly get themselves in the same situation," said Collins.

Collins was discharged from the hospital and got home around 8 p.m. Tuesday night and is expected to make a full recovery.

She says she will hike again, but not without letting people know where she's going first.

Copyright © 2023 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.