The American woman missing since Friday and feared dead was found “very, very weak and extremely disoriented” yesterday in a vacant rectory. The building is less than a mile from the search headquarters in Glencolmcille.
Local volunteers, gardai, members of mountain rescue teams and the Air Corps were celebrating finding Kelly Jones safe. Privately, many had admitted fearing the worst as the days went by and the search continued for the 41-year old American whom most assumed had gone hill-walking.
Ms Jones was found at around 12.30pm by farmer Micheal O’Gara of Ballard, who was one of a team of local volunteers led by Garda Odie McBride, also a local man.
Garda Sgt. Tony Arnold told the Donegal Democrat last night: “She was conscious and speaking but very, very weak and extremely disoriented. We were not able to establish what happened to her. Physically, she seemed to be okay. There was no sign of any external injuries or anything like that.”
Mr O’Gara told the Democrat: “The guards got keys to the house and were planning to search it in a bit anyway. I just happened to take a look in and saw the lady moving about from room to room. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“I was absolutely delighted for her, her family and the whole community. When she went missing, it cast a dark shadow here and that shadow would not have lifted until she was found one way or another.
“The search was an absolute and complete community effort. Anyone who could possibly go out was out searching and anyone who couldn’t helped in any other way they could think of.
“There were ladies with us in the search party, so we sent them in to stay with her while we alerted the gardai and a doctor, who arrived within minutes.”
Although it seems surprising that the South Carolina woman wasn’t found sooner, as the building is near the search headquarters, Mr O’Gara says it shouldn’t be. “Of course, everyone thought she’d gone off walking in the hills, because she was an experienced hiker. So that’s where everyone looked first. Also, there wasn’t any sign of activity at all at the rectory over the last day, that would have led to you think someone was there.”
The doctor attended to Ms Jones until she was carried by stretcher to the Air Rescue helicopter, which brought her to Sligo General Hospital.
Sgt. Arnold thanked all those who assisted with the search operation - professionals and volunteers alike. Members of the gardai, Donegal Mountain Rescue, Sliabh Liag Hillwalkers, Killybegs Cliff and Sea Rescue, Sligo Mountain Rescue, the Air Corps Rescue Helicopter all took part in the search, along with countless other local volunteers. He also had a special world of thanks for the Naomh Columba GAA Club who made their clubhouse and pitch available for use as the search headquarters.
Cllr. Brendan Byrne, one of the volunteers who took part in the search effort, said he was delighted at the good news. “This is the best result we could have hoped for, at a time when our hopes were starting to fade. My heartfelt congratulations go all those who helped with the search, especially the very many local volunteers who gave of their time to help in this search, in most inclement weather conditions. It’s wonderful that their efforts led to this happy outcome.”