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Helicopter used to find hunter lost for 18 hours

A Red Level family is saying a special prayer today after a missing woman was returned home safely Wednesday night.

Chief Deputy David Anderson of the Covington County Sheriff’s Office said the 43-year-old Jerri Lynn Bielec left her home shortly after 5 a.m. to go hunting in the Nolen Road area of northern Red Level and had not returned home.

“At approximately 2 p.m., family members entered the area where she went into the woods and discovered her vehicle stuck about 300 yards off the roadway,” Anderson said. “At 3:30 p.m., family members contacted law enforcement worried about her safety.”

It wasn’t long before a number of searchers comprised of deputies, Sheriff’s Posse members and reserve officers, along with area volunteers and representatives from the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, began searching for the missing woman.

“Within 15 minutes, sheriff’s reserve Lea Reaves and pilot Donald Barton were in the air, flying a search pattern over the area,” Anderson said. “The K-9 Tracker tracked the hunter for about an hour and a half before he lost the scent.”

Shortly after 6 p.m., all search personnel were pulled out of the woods and the Alabama State Trooper helicopter, equipped with a heat sensing system, took over the search.

It took approximately two hours before the hunter was located in a “green field” about a mile and a half from where she entered the woods.

Anderson said the helicopter was able to land in the field and transport Bielec to a landing zone, where she was transported by Advanced EMS to Andalusia Regional Hospital where was treated for dehydration and minor exposure.

Bielec had apparently spent 18 hours in the woods without food and water, became disoriented and lost her way in the woods, he said.

“We can’t say how thankful we are Ms. Bielec made it home safe and sound, and we can’t really express the appreciation to the people who assisted in making her safe return a reality,” Anderson said.