Woman missing in Butte County for six days is found alive

A woman in the early stages of dementia who went missing six days ago was found alive Wednesday by a helicopter crew searching for her in Butte County.

Paula Beth James, 68, was last seen the evening of Jan. 9 in Oroville, where she lives, and was reported missing the following day.

Butte County Sheriff’s Office deputies, detectives, search and rescue teams, and pilots spent more than 100 hours scouring the region in search of James. They’d been desperate to find her before a massive storm reaches the area, which is under a winter storm warning for the next two days.

About noon Wednesday, a sheriff’s helicopter was flying over the Butte Meadows area when a sergeant spotted a vehicle below, covered in snow, about three miles from the Bambi Inn. It matched the description of James’ silver 2018 Toyota 4Runner.

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The pilot landed the helicopter, and two Sheriff’s Office employees hiked over to the 4Runner, which sat in a snow-covered area about 150 yards off the road. Inside, they found James, alive.

The first responders worked quickly to get James to a hospital.

“We hadn’t given up, and we’re so happy with the outcome,” said Megan McCann, a public information officer with the Sheriff’s Office.

James was conscious, talking and cold when the search team found her, McCann said.

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Butte Meadows is about 55 road miles north of Oroville. It is unclear where James was headed, but authorities think she might have left home to meet a friend for lunch.

How James survived the elements as long as she did remains for now unexplained. Authorities hadn’t been able to interview her Wednesday evening but were eager to learn how James kept herself safe while awaiting rescue, McCann said.

“That is what everyone is wondering, including us,” McCann said.