Two missing teens, who spent four nights in the woods alone after they were separated from their hiking group in Algonquin Park, have been found after an extensive search.
Marta Malek and Maya Mirota, both 16 and both from Kitchener, Ont., were missing since Thursday evening, when they were last seen by other hikers in the vast park in southeastern Ontario. An Ontario Provincial Police canine unit found them just before noon Monday, two kilometres off the trail.
“We are just so extremely happy that they were found,” said Agata Majerski, a member of Kitchener’s Polish community who started a Facebook page to spread the news of the young women’s disappearance.
A CBC camera captured the teens smiling and waving Monday afternoon after they were found.
Ms. Malek and Ms. Mirota are Girl Scouts with the Polish Scouting Association in Canada. On July 7, they left for a six-day hike through Algonquin Park; adults were leading the group. The association expressed happiness they were found and said the teens had been well-prepared for the hike.
“By age 15 or 16, most [Scouts] have gained enough experience to venture out on wilderness trekking in groups, carrying gear and supplies for a whole week,” the association said in a statement. “It’s the culmination of several years of incremental preparation.”
On Thursday, the group split up to take different trails through the park but the two teens did not show up at their rendezvous point the next day, according to OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson.
That kicked off a massive search-and-rescue effort. By Saturday morning, dozens of police officers and trained volunteers were canvassing the rugged terrain.
An OPP helicopter and a plane provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry combed the forest from above, but the dense canopy made it hard to see the ground.
All search-and-rescue personnel were equipped with GPS locators so they wouldn’t end up lost themselves. Although many expressed interest in helping to look for the teens, the OPP discouraged volunteers from showing up lest they become lost in the thick brush.
Rescuers were optimistic they would find the girls safely because Ms. Malek and Ms. Mirota were relatively experienced hikers and had supplies, including a tent, spare clothes and food and water. The OPP said the girls did everything they were supposed to do once they realized they were lost: stayed put, rationed food and water and waited for rescue.
The type of hike the girls were on is normally a rewarding experience, according to Michal Sokolski, chief commissioner of the Polish Boy Scouts, who has been on many similar treks with the organization. He commended the girls for using their training.
“They kept their wits about them and managed to use the training they’ve received and the preparations that they made in order to lead to, thankfully, a great result,” he said.