By Bill Kirk
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — A 26-year-old woman from Methuen went out for a hike in Harold Parker State Forest yesterday afternoon and got lost, prompting a massive search and rescue effort last night by local and state police.
Teresa Smith parked her car on Middleton Road around 4 p.m. yesterday and was hiking the trails of the 3,000-acre woodland for several hours when it started getting dark, according to North Andover police Sgt. E.J. Foulds.
“She followed a path to a certain point and got turned around,” he said.
She called police on her cell phone, but the battery in her cell phone was dying. Police told her to keep dialing 911 as long as she could so they could identify her location using cell phone towers.
Before it died, however, State Police told her to stay where she was and they were able to get a fix on her position.
Local police from Andover, North Andover and Middleton were called in to search at around 8:30 p.m.
A K-9 patrol from Middleton was also called and the State Police sent a search helicopter to the scene. It arrived by around 9:15 p.m. with powerful spotlights and infrared equipment that can pick up body heat on the ground.
Police found the woman’s car on Middleton Road and rescue workers went into the woods from there.
The woman’s boyfriend arrived on scene and was able to tell them some information about where she might have been, based on conversations he’d had with her earlier, saying she was near a footbridge of some kind.
“It’s just a tough, tough area,” Foulds said. It’s criss-crossed with streams and filled with marshes and swamps.
When it got dark, “it made it that much more difficult” to conduct the search, he said.
At one point, police used a reverse-911 call to ask residents living around the park to turn on all their lights in case the woman was near a home and could navigate her way out on her own.
Police continued searching, and with help from the State Police helicopter search lights, were able to narrow their search area to the last known latitude-longitude based on her cell phone signal.
As they got closer to her, she could be heard screaming for help. They found her at about 10 p.m.
“The woman was healthy,” Foulds said. “She walked out on her own.”
It took rescuers and the woman another half hour or so to get out, as they had to hike about a mile through the woods to get back to the road.
“It was a coordinated effort,” Foulds said.
Over the scanner, it sounded like the police and fire rescue workers on the ground got a little lost themselves. However, Foulds said, “the officers know the area.” He said the State Troopers in the helicopter were concerned that they were headed in the wrong direction.
“They were headed in the right direction,” he said.