Missing Bay Area couple found after weeklong search near Inverness

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INVERNESS — An academic couple who got lost during a Valentine’s Day hike in the woods of Marin County was found Saturday by rescuers who spent almost a week looking for them and had given up hopes of finding them alive.

Carol Kiparsky, 77, and Ian Irwin, 72, were found in a densely forested area near Tomales Bay and were airlifted by Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter Henry 1 before being transported to a hospital for treatment of hypothermia, Marin and Sonoma county sheriff’s officials said.

“This is a miracle,” said Marin County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brenton Schneider.

The couple were unprepared for a long hike or the cold weather, when night temperatures dipped into the 30s, and survived by drinking from a puddle, he said.

At some point, they may have fallen and Kiparsky attempted to find help alone. She tied parts of her scarf to branches in order to get back to her partner, Schneider said.

“They thought this was the end for them.”

Kiparsky and Irwin were last seen Feb. 14 at a vacation cottage near Inverness at the foot of the bay. The couple from Palo Alto never checked out the next day as planned and failed to show up for an appointment on Feb. 16, which sheriff’s officials said was highly out of character for them.

When housekeepers went to the cottage to clean up, they found the couple’s phones and wallets. Their vehicle was parked outside.

No foul play was suspected.

Sheriff’s officials and a volunteer team combed the woods and waters around Inverness for several days with the help of drones, dive teams and boats equipped with radar and sonar. On Thursday, they shifted the operation to a “recovery mission” when they received four independent alerts from cadaver dogs around Shell Beach, about 2 miles from the cottage, and felt they had exhausted all possible leads.

“We believe that our extensive search efforts with every resource that has been available to us would have located Carol and Ian if they were responsive or in an area accessible by foot on land,” the Marin County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Thursday.

On Saturday morning, two searchers spotted them about a half-mile from Pierce Point Road, the San Jose Mercury News reported, deep into the vegetation farther than family and rescue crews thought was possible. The couple heard them and began screaming for help, Schneider said at the news conference.

Groot, a 3-year-old rescue dog, got to them first, said Quincy Webster, among the first who arrived to the rescue.

“Thank God you found us; we’re so happy,” the couple blurted, according to Webster, who gave Kiparsky all the warm clothes and gear he was carrying — and gave the pair water while they waited for Henry 1.

Henry 1 assisted in the rescue. The helicopter’s tactical flight officer and a Marin County fire paramedic were flown via long line to the site where Kiparsky and Irwin were found.

The Henry 1 tactical officer and paramedic secured them to the long line one at a time and flew them out to a nearby ambulance staged on Pierce Point Road. A video of the rescue was posted on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Facebook page with the couple’s permission.

In the video, Irwin can be seen lying in a “stokes litter basket,” clasping his hands. As rescue crews unhook the long line, Irwin waves his hands as if to say thank you. One of the crew members says, “Welcome.”

Irwin is a leading Parkinson’s disease researcher. He was a chemist on the team that originally identified an agent responsible for the outbreak of Parkinsonism among heroin addicts in 1982, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

Kiparsky is a prominent linguist and author of several books on language, including 1975’s “The Gooficon: A Repair Manual for English.”

Staff Writer Martin Espinoza contributed to this report.

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