Fishermen Find Sisters: How A Gash In A Tree Led To A Life-Saving Discovery

By Jason Van Hoven on February 22, 2013 3:52 PM EST

Fishermen Find Sisters
Astoria-Megler bridge, which connects Oregon and Washington. Two fishermen found two sisters huddling in the woods along State Highway 401 between Astoria, Ore. and Naselle, Wash., after their mother died from allegedly falling asleep at the wheel of her car. (Photo: Flickr / Creative Commons)

A pair of fishermen who found two sisters cold and stranded in the woods on Thursday after their mother died crashing her car used a gash in an alder tree to make their life-saving discovery, according to reports.

Kraai McClure and Scott Beutler, the fisherman who found the sisters, spotted what appeared from a distance to be a basketball-sized gash in an alder tree as they were driving along State Highway 401 between Astoria, Ore., and Naselle, Wash. The two, who travel the road frequently, and had a gut feeling something was wrong, so they slowed down, discussed the situation, and decided to turn around and go take a look.

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McClure said he called 911 to see if there had been any reports of a wreck during the night, but there weren't.

"I don't know exactly what told us to turn around, but I'm just really thankful we did," McClure said.

Beutler, who was a first responder when he lived in Mississippi, went into the woods and signaled McClure to alert authorities. The two fishermen found the sisters a few hundred feet from the road sitting next to the car scared and confused.

"They could say their names but were totally in shock," McClure said.

The two sisters were identified as four-year-old Aryanna Huff and two-year-old Lylah Huff. Trooper Russ Winger said investigators believe Aryanna pulled her sister from the car and helped her to a spot about 20 feet away, where the fishermen found them. He elaborated the two kept warm with a blanket amid temperatures in the low 40s.

"Hypothermia sets in very quickly with something like that," Winger said. "They could have very well not been found and died of exposure."

Aryanna was treated at an Astoria hospital and released, while Lylah, who had serious leg injuries, was flown to a Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland. Authorities estimated to KPTV the sisters were alone in the frigid woods for eight hours starting early Thursday morning as many motorists drove past the hidden wreck.

Winger described the fishermen who found the sisters as heroes for acting on their instincts. McClure, however, gave the credit to Aryanna for helping Lylah out of the car and keeping her warm.

"She saved her sister," McClure said. "She was sharp enough. I don't know how she did it or anything else, but something was watching over those little girls." 

"It was amazing that the little 4-year-old - I have a little 4-year-old, too, she's almost 5 - was able to get her little sister out and do that," he added. "It just blows my mind that she could do that in that situation. I don't know if she waited until morning, when they could see, but, you know, it just makes me want to cry."

The Washington State Patrol said that the girls' mother, 26-year-old Jessica Rath of Astoria, was probably asleep when she veered off the road and struck the alder tree shortly after midnight Thursday. She and her daughters were reportedly on the way to Portland to pick up Jessica's husband, Keaton Huff, who is ironically also a fisherman.

Huff had asked for help on Facebook as to his missing family only to have his worst fears confirmed.

McClure and Beutler discovered the crash site around 8:30 a.m. with no skid marks on the highway to clue them as to the accident.

Winger said investigators have yet to determine how fast Rath was driving or whether there were any other factors in the crash.

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