Frank Zhang says it was like something out of a movie when two strangers happened to find his mother after she went missing for more than five days.
“It’s a happy ending, it was such a relief for me,” Zhang told Global News from a Coquitlam backyard where his mother was found.
“I was so thankful to all the volunteers, all the rescue forces trying to get hold of her. But after a massive search with no information, I was mentally prepared for her not coming back forever.”
Zhang says his mother moved to Coquitlam from China just three months ago and regularly would take morning walks.
“I told her regularly: ‘Don’t walk too far, don’t wander off’,” Zhang explained.
Lifang Cheng took off for her morning walk last Monday but never came back. Cheng was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and given her condition, a massive search around Coquitlam’s Burke Mountain and Minnekhada Regional Park was launched.
But after five days with hundreds of police and volunteers looking for her, the couple who actually found her needed only to look in their own backyard, finding Cheng sitting on a rock.
Marjorie and Ed Kurucz said they found Cheng beside their goldfish ponds in the backyard by sheer coincidence.
“My heart was just pounding. I had to go find the phone number and it was like, ‘Ah! Don’t let her out of your sight!’ It was unreal,” Marjorie Kurucz told Global News.
“But you could see she’d been through the bush. Her clothes were snagged. Full of burrs, full of seed pods but she looked none (the worse) for wear, I mean her runners looked okay,” Marjorie exclaimed.
But despite Cheng being in the woods for the better part of a week, the couple were amazed by how nonplussed she seemed by the ordeal.
“She had no trouble walking. I couldn’t believe it,” Marjorie expressed with bewilderment.
“She was just smiling like nothing happened. She didn’t look like she was tired, faint or hungry. Then she walked down with the police by herself.”
Marjorie and Ed took Global News reporter Kamil Karamali around their property and showed him some of the items they found when Cheng happened across their home.
“Once they left, I found this old branch here that she must have used as a walking stick,” Marjorie pointed out.
“And this here, an old yogurt container, which she must have used to drink water,” she added.
Around 100 people were scouring the area for Cheng over the five days she disappeared but despite her age, condition and length of time gone, search and rescue crews say it was a survivable event.
“So long as you have water, food and you’re in an area that you can stay sheltered,” Al Hurley with Coquitlam Search and Rescue told Global News.
“Definitely she was, from what we understand.
“So, I don’t think we lost hope. It’s just that we were running out of places to look. We hadn’t picked her up on any other camera footage. She wasn’t going into the city. She hadn’t been picked up by transit or any hospitals.”
In a fascinating turn of events, search and rescue volunteers came to Marjorie and Ed Kurucz’s home multiple times looking for the missing senior, before she appeared in their backyard on Saturday.
“We had searched the property where she was found multiple times with people on the ground, as well as with aircraft, which means she was probably not here when we searched and came into the zone from another area. We just won’t know,” Hurley explained.
While we may never know the extent of Cheng’s trials and tribulations in the bush, the fact she made it through and with help from some kind strangers left her son with immense joy after a difficult week.
“It was unreal, I was so impressed that she was laughing. It healed so many people from the search and rescue teams and volunteers. I hugged her and it was just like a movie,” he exclaimed.
But despite being forever grateful to all the people who tried to find his mother, he said this problem affects many seniors who go missing and said vulnerable people like seniors and those with mental illness should have a form of tracking device in case they wander off.
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“As Canada ages, this will become a bigger problem and it’s up to us, as a society, to come up with better tracking solutions to help people living with dementia,” Zhang added.
Global News caught up with Frank visiting Marjorie and Ed Kurucz to offer thanks for finding his mother.
“I brought a cake and watermelon. I know it’s not much, but I needed to express my gratitude in person. Thank you so much,” Zhang told Marjorie and Ed Kurucz.
“We’re just so happy she’s ok after hearing about so many other people who don’t make it,” Marjorie expressed as she tightly held Frank’s hand.