Young children have a knack for suddenly vanishing. One second, you’re laying out a blanket for a picnic, and the next your toddler is running away to chase a leaf. And when two-year-old Gabriella Vitale and some of her relatives visited the woods in Oscoda County, Michigan, she disappeared. Police officers and other officials searched the area but couldn’t find Gabriella, even as night fell. Against the odds, she turned up in the most unlikely place.
On July 15, the Vitales were packing up from their camping vacation in the Huron National Forest. They were in an area rich with natural beauty. Little did they know, they wouldn’t get to enjoy any of it.
Soon, the family realized Gabriella has wandered away while they were tearing down their site. They were horrified. The forest was a beautiful place to visit, but it was filled with danger for the lost girl.
Coyotes, bobcats, and bears all lived in the woods. There were plenty of wetlands and swampy areas that she could get stuck in and, of course, rivers and lakes that could sweep her away.
At 8:15 a.m., the Vitales contacted the police about Gabriella’s disappearance. First local officers arrived on the scene, but the search party ballooned to include Michigan State Police troopers, conservation officers, air crews, and police canines as the hours passed.
The first thing authorities found was a piece of Gabriella’s clothing — her bright pink jacket. It was on the ground a few hundred feet away from the campsite. This didn’t make the Vitales feel any better.
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Many amateur volunteers wanted to help but only got in the way. “We’re asking people to stay out of the woods in this area because we have active canines working, and we want to make sure the area is [as] clean as possible when it comes to scent,” Michigan State Police Lieutenant Travis House said.
The day fled away, and night descended on the woods. Gabriella was still out there somewhere. The crew continued to search the area and didn’t find any other sign of the little girl.
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Overnight, the temperature remained unseasonably warm for Gabriella. She was only in 72°F conditions instead of the normal 56°F. Even still, she was a toddler alone in the woods — there was no telling what kind of condition she’d be in once they found her.
Most of the search was in Huron National Forest. But 24 hours had passed and, despite the multi-unit team, Gabriella was still gone. These authorities wouldn’t be the group to save her.
Three hours later, bringing this ordeal up to 27 in total, there was a twist for the worried family. A home in the area called to report that Gabriella had shown up on her front porch.
During her wandering, Gabriella walked a half mile away from the campsite, onto the grounds of a local cabin. An Oscoda retreat group was staying in it and recognized the girl from local news stories.
The group called the Department of Natural Resources to report their discovery and conservation officer Lieutenant Brandon Kieft showed up to investigate. He confirmed they’d found the lost toddler.
“I asked her if she wanted to go see mommy, and she lit up. She came right to me and gave me a big hug,” Lieutenant Brandon said. He took her to the natural resources station where she ate a cookie and drank some water.
Gabriella came through her ordeal in surprisingly good shape. She had a few bruises and cuts, and had showed up only wearing a torn shirt, but was free of any major injuries. She was also in a great mood.
“[Gabriella] seems relatively unfazed for a two-year-old who’s been in the woods overnight,” said Lieutenant Travis. When she was found, she was happy and interacted with her rescuers. Gabriella seems to have gone on an adventure through the woods.
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After Gabriella was reunited with her family, they took her to the hospital to ensure she didn’t have any hidden injuries. “Right now, she’s getting fluids and vitals, [and doctors are] making sure everything is normal,” her father, Dominic said.
“She’s a little distraught from not seeing her family for so long – for about 24 hours – but she’s definitely accepting all the love. She wants hugs, [and] she doesn’t want to be let down, so she’s doing good,” Dominic said.
No one knows what Gabriella was up to during her 27 hours alone. The only thing that’s certain is that she made it a half-mile by herself and took charge of her own rescue. Regardless, she really was a lucky girl.
Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images
“She’s only two and not overly verbal. So, exactly what she experienced might be a mystery,” Lieutenant Travis said. No matter what kind of adventure Gabriella had, her family is grateful to have her back.
“We would like to express our thanks to God for keeping our sweet Gabriella safe,” Gabriella’s mother said in a statement. “Thank you to the countless public safety officers, first responders, and those that helped locate our girl.” Surprised as they were, authorities told Gabriella’s family that they’ve seen almost this exact situation happen before.
Michigan State Police
The authorities said that sometimes when parents are in more rural areas, they allow their children to roam free. Cody was a happy, adventurous kid with confidence in his sense of direction. He and his friends would go fishing for crayfish and climb the highest trees they could find.
Lambert / Contributor
One winter afternoon, Cody’s family was having a picnic near the Wallowa Mountains. The young boy was bundled in a snow coat and gloves with sneakers for running and jumping. He and his 9-year-old sister were playing a game of “explorers” in the woods nearby.
Each explorer had the job of searching part of the land. They’d begin at the same tree, set off in opposite directions, and meet back within 15-20 minutes. But this time, Cody didn’t return.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Cody was completely immersed in play when he got himself turned around. For a moment, he was a brave explorer, bounding through the thicket of a glorious jungle. The next moment, a vast, unfamiliar meadow appeared before him.
Cody’s bliss vanished. After a moment of shock, he turned and made his way back through the pines. Once again, he stumbled into a strange meadow. Panic began to set in. This was turning into a nightmare.
As he wandered, Cody thought to himself. Was he really lost? What should he do now? Would his family even know where to look for him? Just as the questions began to overflow, Cody approached a dirt road. Surely, this could lead him back home. But which direction should he choose?
Around this time, Cody’s family noticed his absence. His sister was complaining of his disappearance, which had ruined their game. In minutes, a search party for the 6-year-old was formed. By the time they found evidence of his little footprints, Cody was miles down the road.
If Cody had stayed put, his family would surely have found him. Instead, Cody was once again an explorer. His new mission: Follow this muddy road back to civilization. After walking for over six miles, Cody wondered if he was merely heading deeper into the Wallowa Mountains.
The six-year-old came to a fork in the road. His swelling feet and cold cheeks were wearing on his confidence. He went right at the fork, but quickly doubted his decision. Instead of turning back around, he cut across a creek to reach the left side. Suddenly, he slipped.
Cody knew he was about to hit the water. His sweatpants and sneakers were instantly soaked, along with one of his arms. He hauled himself up and made his way back up the bank. The cold was now hitting him worse than ever. He continued along the winding road.
Children Cody’s age rarely go hours without food. As his stomach grumbled for dinner, Cody began to realize the severity of his situation. Would his family be upset with him for getting lost? In fits of panic, Cody switched between running and walking. His hunger was making him delirious.
Cody could hear buzzing in his ears. His vision was tunneling and blurring. Once darkness hit, fear took over. Every sound was a threat, including the passing cars. Instead of flagging them down, the boy hid. He was working on a plan.
Cody decided to stop at his grandfather’s house. There, he could eat a bit, regain his strength, and continue his walk to be home before bedtime. It was the perfect plan (except he had no idea where to go). Cody stayed distracted from the pain in his feet by watching the sky for passing comets.
Meanwhile, the search was on. Dozens of friends and family members combed the area. Unfortunately, they were off by miles. Cody’s mother and grandfather drove together, saying prayers with tears in their eyes. Cody’s sister, on the other hand, found the entire ordeal irritating.
US National Archives
If Cody didn’t get inside soon, he could contract hypothermia. He trekked up hillsides and though thick woodlands till he spotted a mysterious home. He ran closer only to discover the house was abandoned. Before he could find his way inside, he heard a peculiar sound.
Two coyotes were roaming outside the house. Cody froze. He watched as the creatures sniffed the perimeter. He knew coyotes were more likely to attack children. In a panic, Cody bolted. While running, he noticed a low tree branch and decided to climb.
Halfway up the tree, Cody lost steam. He reached a comfortable branch and decided to take a break. The boy was happy to be off his feet. By now, he had traveled over twelve miles. The cold was too bitter for sleep, but after enough rest, he continued his walk.
Cody eventually found himself at the edge of a plateau where he could see his hometown. It was the early hours of the morning, and he was determined to finish his walk. He wandered down into town, finally reaching civilization. There, he met a teenager who lured him with an offer of cookies.
The teen brought Cody to the home of an older woman. They called the police, who arrived quickly to take the boy home. Finally, Cody had made it! He hollered as his sister removed his sneakers. He had walked almost 20 miles, leaving his ankles with acute tendonitis. He spent over a week on crutches.
It didn’t take long for Cody to be back outside. He was now a local star, appearing on radio shows and receiving hundreds of letters addressed to “The Lost Boy of Wallowa.” His grandfather even wrote a ballad in his honor. Cody Sheehy is truly a real-life Tom Sawyer! He’s fortunate to not get lost in an even more inhospitable environment.
Four-year-old Karina Chikitova lived in a remote Siberian village in the far east region called The Sakha Republic. There, she shared a small home with her father, mother, grandmother, and her dog, Naida.
Like most kids her age, Karina was energized by a youthful curiosity, that urge to explore and know and understand. Which was why, in July 2014, she followed her father, Rodion, on an expedition into a part of the Siberian wilderness also known as the taiga.
Now this decision was problematic for a few different reasons. The first reason being that the taiga is very much an animal kingdom, dominated by bears, tigers, and wolves with really sharp teeth and an appetite for people.
The second problem with Karina’s decision was that she had not told her grandmother — the person charged with watching her at the time — that she would be following her dad into the bear-infested wilderness.
In fact, she hadn’t even told her dad that she would be following him. So literally no one on the planet knew that this four-year-old girl was diving headstrong into the most dangerous territory on the planet. No person, at least.
Karina did have a companion at her side: Naida, the family dog. That, evidently, was all the comfort the little girl needed, but it was little comfort to her mother, Talina, when she realized her little girl and the dog were both missing.
At first, Talina figured her youngster and the dog followed Rodion to his native village, but Siberia wasn’t exactly flooded with quality LTE, so she couldn’t pull out a cellphone and check. Instead she waited to hear from her husband.
In the meantime, Karina, followed her father until she somehow managed to lose his trail. Her dad disappeared from view leaving her very much stranded in Siberia with Naida. And the bears. And the wolves.
It took four days of waiting for mother Talina to learn that, no, her daughter was not with her husband in his home village. No stranger to Siberia, she understood this to be a very bad thing, so she alerted authorities.
Radio Free Europe
They deployed a 100-person rescue team to head out into Siberian wilds to find her. The team carried rifles to fend off bears (yeah, there were that many bears in the woods).
Helicopters sliced the sky and rescue workers on foot combed through the trees and tall grass, but their search proved fruitless: Karina was nowhere to be seen. But then, nine days after she went missing, authorities found a clue.
More specifically, a clue walked right up to the authorities and introduced herself. Naida returned to her home — but Karina was not with her! What should’ve been a hopeful moment only seemed to confirm Talina’s worst thoughts.
“If she was to hug her puppy,” Talina said, “we thought, ‘this would have given her a chance to…survive.’ So when her dog came back we thought ‘that’s it.’ Even if she was alive — and chances were slim — now she would have definitely have lost all hope.”
But Naida hadn’t just wandered absentmindedly home. She seemed eager to show the desperate family and the rescue crew something important. The dog headed the group of rescuers and led them into the wilderness…
The dog led authorities to a spot in the wilderness, but none of them saw Karina there. Naida, it seemed, couldn’t find the exact area where she’d left the little girl! Authorities wondered if they were anywhere near her at all.
But three days later — 12 days after Karina first went missing — rescue workers spotted a child-sized footprint on a river bed beside a dog’s paw print. The footprint revealed Karina was barefoot, a crucial detail for investigators.
This told rescue workers that Karina likely was not in the woods. Too many sharp sticks there would’ve been a nightmare on her feet. This narrowed their search down considerably, and the following morning, they executed that new search plan.
And sure enough, just 20 meters from where they started searching, one rescue worker noticed a peculiar lump tucked away in a patch of tall grass. The whole crew rushed over.
They found her nestled in the grass. She was starving, thirsty, exhausted, and covered in mosquito bites, but nevertheless alive. They brought her tea before carrying her to a car and whisking her away to the nearest hospital.
The child spent some time in the hospital, but physicians determined there wouldn’t be any lasting damage. A psychologist examined her mental state and found, shockingly, her mind was in a good place. Talk about mental fortitude.
So how did a four-year-old girl survive in the Siberian wilderness? The little girl told reporters and her family that she survived off wild berries and river water.
Then, of course, there was Naida, the lovable canine that gave her warmth at night and companionship in the daytime. The two reunited for the first time back at home when the hospital released Karina. The meeting did not go as expected.
When Karina first saw her dog, she looked her in the eyes and chided, “why did you leave me?” Those three days of solitude must’ve really affected the little girl. But eventually, she came to understand what the dog did for her.
“It was Naida who rescued me,” Karina said sometime later. “I was really, really scared. But when we were going to sleep I hugged her, and together we were warm.”
Karina’s story gripped everyone watching, and locals even erected a statue of the girl and her pooch to celebrate their strength and will to survive. Not bad for a four-year-old and her dog, huh?
In the end, Karina made a full recovery, and by 2018, attended a ballet boarding school 350 miles away from the village she’d wandered away from all those years ago. Her teachers believed she had the talent to compete in Russia’s competitive ballet scene.
“When she just started her classes, Karina was very reserved,” a boarding school leader said. “She has changed so much and became a lot more open, sociable, friendly and independent. She made many friends who love her lots.”
But even as she danced like an expert and earned friends with her exuberant personality, she would never forget the friend that made it all possible: Naida, the loyal canine.
Thanks to an abundance of technologies and other people, we can easily pinpoint our exact locations. In this day and age, it’s hard to get truly lost, though some places, like rural Siberia, are not-so WiFi-rich.
15 year old Svetlana Evai lived her entire life in the Gydan Peninsula, a frigid place in northern Siberia. Svetlana dreamed of a life outside of the continuous routine with her family.
Like many others, she and her family herded reindeer to make a living. Though not the most exciting profession, shepherding instilled Svetlana with deep confidence when it came to navigating Siberia’s rough terrain.
While she was stuck at home, Svetlana wished she were with her brother. He spent the summer at a different camp some distance away, presumably living it up and having all the fun Svetlana wasn’t allowed to have.
The Siberian Times
But of course, he wasn’t that far away — just four miles. Svetlana figured she could make that journey in no time at all and that whatever her brother was up to had to be more exciting than sitting around with her family and some reindeer.
Flickr / wowbagger0420
So Svetlana set off to visit her brother. She was traveling alone and without any kind of navigation aids, but she wasn’t worried. She knew the terrain like the back of her hand, so surely going a bit further wouldn’t pose a problem.
Yamal Peninsula Travel
Several hours passed, and Svetlana started to panic. She should have made it to her brother by now, and yet she stood in the middle of the wilderness, with no people or buildings in sight. She began to feel dizzy.
Flickr / Lady Fiszi
Meanwhile, her family back home grew concerned. Svetlana had never gone out alone for such a long time. Her Uncle Ivan, knowing that time was precious, organized a search party of family members and neighbors. They had to find her.
But Ivan understood the vast scope of the Siberian region. They could surmise the rough direction in which Svetlana had headed, but that knowledge only went so far: she could’ve gotten lost and switched to any other heading.
Gydan Nature Reserve
And that was precisely what had happened. After a rough night out on the tundra, Svetlana couldn’t make heads or tails of where she was. Before she could head back home, however, another issue pressed on her mind: survival.
Svetlana felt certain help was on the way, but realized it could be a while until anyone arrived. With a bit of luck, she located some cloudberries. They were half-frozen and unripe, but they were food.
Flickr / Eero Sarkkinen
As more time passed, Svetlana kept moving. She continuously looked over her shoulder, for she knew dangerous beasts lived out on the tundra. Arctic wolves would usually go after stray reindeer, but they would gladly accept a lost girl as their meal.
Flickr / Safi Kok
Night fell again and again. Although daytime temperatures could sometimes reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the night air dropped far below freezing. Svetlana shivered herself to sleep as she fought to stay alive.
Flickr / hpaich
Svetlana grew so weak that she could no longer walk. Nevertheless, the will to survive kept her going. Praying that some help would arrive soon, she began to crawl on her hands and knees. She didn’t have much time left.
Her Uncle Ivan continued the search, but there wasn’t any trace of Svetlana, who went missing over two weeks before. He had spotted some brown bears, though. Could a bear have hunted her down and dragged her off to its den?
Flickr / John Solaro
Dismayed, Ivan walked around an area just seven miles from their home. Then, without warning, he spotted a figure on the horizon. It ambled toward him. Without thinking, he ran towards the shape and hoped for a miracle.
Flickr / Brendan Ó Sé
It was Svetlana! Though her body was battered and bruised and she was emotionally spent, somehow, she stayed alive. Ivan resisted the urge to scold her for acting so foolishly and arranged for a physician to examine his niece.
The Siberian Times
Living in such a remote part of the Gydan Peninsula, Svetlana did not have access to a full medical staff in the immediate vicinity of her home. A helicopter arrived to carry her to a hospital. Once aboard, she shared her incredible story.
Nobody could quite believe how Svetlana scraped together the bare essentials out in the wilderness. Though still just a girl, she managed to evade the tundra’s many hazards while knowing how to take advantage of its biggest asset: plenty of fresh water.
The Siberian Times
Amazingly, Svetlana seemed pretty healthy. Though she had no shelter and barely any food over the course of two weeks, her vitals were pretty steady. Doctors found no sign that her life was in danger.
But just as a precaution, Svetlana’s family kept her in the hospital in Tazovsky to fully recuperate. They gave thanks that she survived such an ordeal and hoped that after her harrowing adventure, Svetlana wouldn’t mind spending time at home again.