A week alone in the woods: one Chicago woman recounts her surviv - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

A week alone in the woods: one Chicago woman recounts her survival story

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ESSEX, MT - A Chicago woman visiting family in Montana captivated the nation for nearly a week as she was lost in the woods, then miraculously found alive and well with her dog, Mogie.

Madeline Connelly, her family, and members of the search crew agreed to speak about the incident. For the first time, they all sat down together and shared their stories about Maddie's seven days alone in the woods.

A lot of hugs on this day. It's a family reunion of sorts. A family that just met a couple of weeks ago under the worst of circumstances.

"It just seemed like a mellow day," Marty Connelly recalled, Maddie's uncle. "She was going to take the dog and go find open water."

Maddie was visiting her uncle. It was Thursday, May 4th. But Maddie didn't return Thursday night, and by the time Friday night rolled around, Marty knew something wasn't right.

"You're just feeling it," Marty said. "You could just feel it. We couldn't do much that night though. It was dark."

Saturday morning, Maddie's empty car was found at a trail head.

"When you spend a lot of time in the mountains, every minute that goes by, the chances of survival in that type of environment decrease," said Chris Lewis, a search crew volunteer.

"You didn't even know Madeline."

"No," Charlie Speicher admitted. "But we would meet with her parents and Marty every morning and the same crew. And we'd hug them, and we'd tell them we loved them, and we'd tell them we'd felt confident in our plan."

Dozens of people and several agencies were searching for Maddie. But where was she?

''I didn't really know how far I had gone because I was going fast and it was still sunny out," Madeline admitted. "And I just kept going and I was just still so stoked.  And then I'm all, 'Oh, I don't think I'm in the right place, but this trail has to loop around soon.'''

But it didn't. No food, no water, no jacket. Maddie and Mogie hiked for hours.

''Started getting tired, laid down, took a nap, woke up," Madeline said. "It was nighttime. I was freaked out. It wasn't pitch-black, so I kept going. Then it got really dark. I was in snow. I was off a trail and I panicked. And I went to bed.''

''I woke up early in the morning and I just kept thinking, 'I gotta make it back. Marty is probably wondering where I am.''

Madeline was heading deeper into the wilderness. Friday, May 5th came and went. Maddie and Mogie settled in for another long night.

''She'd normally put her head around my neck. And we'd just sleep. Every 30 minutes I wake up probably. Warm up my feet.''

Maddie was starting to lose hope Saturday, May 6th.

''After the second day, I was fighting the demons in my head that were, you know, 'Oh, you never got to say sorry to that person. You never got to thank that person. You never got to fix that friendship.''

But by Sunday, Maddie had a change of heart.

''It was a rough few days, but I just sorta told myself, 'You gotta stay positive because this might be it.' And so Mogie and I enjoyed as much as we could out there.  And it was so beautiful.''

That positive attitude may have saved Maddie's life. But meanwhile, her parents could only pray. It was day six.

''Your baby is out there," said Laura Connelly, Maddie's mother. "What are you thinking?''

'''It's cold, it's dark. It's cold, it's dark. It's cold. Please God, keep her alive. Please keep her positive. Keep her warm.'''

Maddie drank water from creeks and ate glacier lilies for food. Then on day seven, it happened.

''I saw a bunch of heads at the bottom of a hill. I yelled down to them...I asked, 'Are you guys hikers?'  And they said, 'No!'. I say, 'Hi.'  And they say, 'Are you Madeline Connelly?' And I said, 'Yep.'  And I lost it.''

"'And then like, 'Chhhrrr - - we found her - - alive and well!'  And I think everybody started crying and smiling and a lot of people were surprised -  and that was that.  She was {snap} alive.  She's found.''

''You might think that the trail head from where Madeline took off that fateful Thursday morning is the last place she'd want to come back. But not true...not Madeline. She wants to more than anything...but it has to be on her own terms.''

''I think that that is a very special place and I can't wait to get back there," Madeline said. "But I want to do that by myself…and with some loved ones maybe. But not at this moment.''

At this moment, Maddie just wants to take in all the love from her new family.

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