Found alive: How a 10-year-old girl survived 24 hours alone in the Washington woods

A 10-year-old girl who had been reported missing on Sunday afternoon, was found alive in the Cle Elum River Valley on Monday.

The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office led a massive search and rescue operation, which involved multiple agencies and volunteers from across the region.

Shunghla Mashwani, of Federal Way, went missing Sunday while her extended family was gathered at the Cathedral Pass Trailhead. She had been playing in the woods on the west side of a footbridge over the Cle Elum River. Upon returning to the trailhead parking area for lunch, the family realized Shunghla was nowhere to be found.

"There was a river and there was brush on the river, and she crossed the brush, and she [became] lost, she couldn't come back," her uncle Kamaludin Ezhar translated.

With no cell signal in the valley, the family searched for the young girl for nearly two hours before a passerby noticed the commotion and offered to use their Starlink phone at a nearby cabin on Fish Lake Road to call 911.

The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office swiftly launched a search operation in coordination with Search & Rescue volunteers. The area posed significant challenges with its steep and rugged terrain, dense trees, undergrowth, and the fast-running Cle Elum River.

Volunteer Ground Team searchers, K9 units, drones, and swiftwater teams from Kittitas, King, and Snohomish counties joined in the search. Advanced air support was provided by Spokane County's Spokane Air 2 and King County's Guardian 1 helicopters.

Despite their efforts, the brave little girl spent the night outdoors in the dense forest between some trees.

"I remember that there was a forest, I was lost and sleepy and I was not scared," Ezhar translated on her behalf.

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  (Kittitas County Sheriff's Office)

After an intense search, two KCSR Ground Team volunteers, John Sand and Liz Pachaud, made a remarkable discovery around 3:00 pm Monday. They found Shunghla alive, with only minor scrapes, about 1.5 miles south from where she was last seen, on the west side of the river. Snohomish County Swiftwater personnel used an inflatable rescue watercraft to bring her safely to the east side of the river, where she was joyfully reunited with her father.

"I saw a car on the other side of the river, and she said, ‘I was trying to find the bridge and cross the river, that’s why I followed the river,’" Ezhar translated.

He also helped translate on behalf of her father who said, "'I was unbelievable that we found her alive, because it was cold and there was animals, and I’m proud to have a daughter like her.'" 

The Mashwani family, who migrated from Afghanistan just two years ago, expressed their love for spending time in the high backcountry, as it reminded them of their homeland.

Shunghla shared her ordeal with her family and rescuers, recounting that she had become separated from the group as they were returning to the footbridge and couldn't find her way back alone. Determined to stay safe, she hiked downstream through the dense forest and spent a cold night between some trees. She demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness and resilience throughout the ordeal.

"They found my daughter and I'm very proud of them, they were very helpful, they brought helicopter and used different skills and finally able to found her," Ezhar translated. "We’re really thankful, we really appreciate it."


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The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office expressed deep gratitude for the successful outcome of the search and the overwhelming support and resources provided by various agencies and volunteers.

The family will be hosting a celebration party on Saturday, welcoming Shunghla home and thanking search and rescue crews.