THE FORKS — Ryan Gilbert was one of the last people to see his cousin Erica LaChance on Sunday before she disappeared.

Monday morning, after he’d spent the night searching with the Maine Warden Service, Maine Search and Rescue and other volunteers and family members, he was one of the first one to find her, battered, wet and cold, but safe.

LaChance, 29, of Fairfield, was last seen about 4:15 p.m. Sunday as she, Gilbert, and two friends hiked to Moxie Falls for a swim after a Kennebec River rafting trip and got separated from the group.

She was found safe around 8:30 Monday morning.

LaChance was found by Walter Glynn, a searcher with the West Forks Fire Department, and Gilbert, of Skowhegan, near the intersection of the Kennebec River and Moxie Stream near The Forks.

“I was glad that I was one of the last persons to see her and I was the first person she saw when we found her,” Gilbert said.

He said LaChance fell, hit her head and lost consciousness before waking up cold and alone in the woods in the middle of the night with coyotes howling nearby.

Glynn said LaChance appeared to have suffered a concussion, had abrasions and “was in pretty bad shape.” Cpl. John MacDonald of the Warden Service could not confirm the concussion Monday.

Glynn, 43, of The Forks, an emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter, said he and Gilbert found LaChance wet and disoriented about a mile and a half from the trail to Moxie Falls.

“She slept out in the woods and didn’t have any way to know what was up or down.

“We were the first sight of humanity that she’d seen – she said, thank you, thank you – I can’t even remember,” he said. “I was caught up in the moment of making sure she was OK – I’m an EMT. I conducted a patient assessment, but I didn’t really have anything to treat her because I was down there on foot.”

He said her brother is a doctor and after she rested up and showered, she went to the hospital to be checked out.

Gilbert said Glynn blew a whistle to signal LaChance as they were searching.

“That’s what found her was the whistle — he blew that whistle and we heard a faint scream,” Gilbert said. “So we started running in that direction. We could hear her a long ways away so we just bolted and she was on the other side of Moxie Stream, near the Kennebec River.”

LaChance swam across Moxie Stream to her north and came to the east shore of the Kennebec River, where she spent the night, the warden service said.

Gilbert said LaChance was conscious and alert when they found her.

“She had a welt on her head the size of a golf ball,” he said. “She was cold, she was thirsty, she was hungry, so we gave her a jacket, some water and a bunch of granola bars and got her warmed up.”

Glynn said LaChance spent the night at one of the rafting company’s lunch sites down river from the whitewater rapids.

Gilbert said she does not remember swimming across the stream. She woke up sometime in the middle of the night.

‘LAST TIME HE SAW HER’

“We all broke up into search parties this morning,” Glynn said Monday at his home on U.S. Route 201. “Her cousin was the last person to see her the night before and he spent all night looking with the game wardens.

LaChance had been rafting with family and friends, including Gilbert, on the Kennebec River before she, Gilbert and the other two went to Moxie Falls for a swim.

“She started out at Moxie Falls,” Glynn said. “The last thing her cousin knew was they were going down to swim at the base of the falls and she was kind of following behind and that was the last time he saw her.”

Gilbert and their friends searched for her after they realized she wasn’t with them, and then called the Maine Warden Service for assistance around 7:15 p.m. Sunday night.

Maine game wardens and Maine Association of Search and Rescue searchers, including a Warden Service airplane and tracking dogs, spent Sunday night and Monday morning looking for LaChance.

Gilbert, who works at M Thai Restaurant in Skowhegan, said he went down the  embankment by the last viewing platform at the falls to go for a swim. When he came back up, LaChance was gone. He said LaChance had left her phone in his truck, did not have a change of clothes with her and was dressed only in a swim suit top and shorts.

Gilbert said game wardens were on the scene within 30 minutes after the group called them, but it was quickly getting dark in the woods. Family members began arriving around 2 a.m. as fears worsened, he said.

“All of our family was there — we took this really seriously,” he said.

POPULAR DESTINATION

Moxie Falls, with a vertical drop of over 90 feet into a pool about 17 feet deep, is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. Located two miles from Route 201 in The Forks, Moxie is one of the highest falls in New England. A well-traveled foot path leads from the paved Moxie Falls Road for a 10- to 15-minute hike to the falls through deep woods and rugged terrain.

The Forks and neighboring West Forks across the river are named for being at the confluence, or forks, where the Dead River meets the Kennebec River about 50 miles north of Skowhegan in Somerset County. The region is a four-season tourist destination with hiking, fishing, hunting, camping and snowmobiling.

Visitors to the falls from Brooklyn, New York, and Atlantic Highland, New Jersey, Monday said they were told Monday morning by staffers at Northern Outdoors, where they were staying, that the trail to the falls was closed for the search. They said it opened when LaChance was found.

“When we were asking how to get to Moxie Falls the woman at the desk told us it was closed, but then told us that they found her,” Kristina Maravegias of New Jersey said. “They said she had just gotten turned around in the woods. She got separated from her friends. It’s a beautiful area – it’s amazing. It’s perfect. It’s the perfect weather; everybody’s friendly.”

Brandon Berry of Berry’s General Store in West Forks said game wardens were in the area all night.

It was the second time in a week that law enforcement officials have been in the area.

Last Tuesday, Somerset County sheriff’s deputies, Border Patrol agents, and emergency medical personnel were sent to West Forks for a car that had crashed into a stand of trees on Route 201 about eight days earlier.

Rescuers found the bodies of Martin Poulin and Francine Duman, both 57, of Quebec, dead inside. The cause of the accident has not yet been released. The car had been obscured by broken trees and remained undiscovered until family members who had been searching for them found the car.