Helicopter plucks missing girl from lake near Independence

A Saturday afternoon joint-mission by the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Customs and Border Protection ended with the rescue of a 13-year-old girl found struggling in marshy water after disappearing several hours earlier at a Girl Scouts campsite.

Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputies were alerted at 12:13 p.m., about an hour after the girl went missing from Camp Whispering Pines, a Girl Scouts campsite off La. 1054 near Independence, said Dawn Panepinto, a spokeswoman for the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies, friends and family of the girl spent more than two hours Saturday searching the campsite — which includes a lake-like body of water identified as 23-acre Timber Lake on the Girl Scouts’ website — before the girl was spotted in an area of the lake that had previously gone unnoticed by a U.S. Customs helicopter crew, Panepinto said.

“It was a blessing that they saw her,” Panepinto said. “Because they had searched and searched and searched, and then the pilot said, ‘Wait, what is that? And they went that way and there she was.”

Capt. Stuart Murphy of the sheriff’s office, along with the copilot of the helicopter, soon leapt off the helicopter and into the water, swimming between 30 and 40 feet before reaching and rescuing the girl, Panepinto said.

“The guys who jumped in had no life vests, they had nothing,” Panepinto said. “They went in because they knew there was no time for anyone (else) to get there.”

The girl, a Girl Scout, suffered only minor injuries during her several-hour disappearance, including some scratches on her legs, Panepinto said.

“The belief is that she wasn’t in there the full two hours,” Panepinto said. “She just wandered in there and got stuck.”

Deputies could not immediately determine how long the girl was in the water because she suffers from a disability that prevents her from communicating audibly, Panepinto said.

When the rescue crew drove up to the rest of the Girl Scouts with their lost Scout member, many of the girls hollered and cheered, Panepinto said.

After being reunited with her family, the girl was taken to a hospital for further evaluation, Panepinto said.

Camp Whispering Pines is one of several camp sites available to members of the Girl Scouts’ Louisiana East division.

A Girl Scouts representative could not be reached late Saturday.