It’s winter in the Arizona mountains, and the hunt is on for a missing child. However, as temperatures hover around freezing, hope of a successful rescue begins to fade. Then a helicopter crew makes a stunning discovery – little Victoria Bensch is not alone.
In February 2010 Victoria was living with her parents in Cordes Lakes, a small community some 70 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona. An area known for its natural beauty, the town is popular with hikers and those wanting to enjoy fishing in the two manmade lakes.
Back then, the Bensch family were living on the outskirts of the town, in a property that backed on to open state land. On the morning of February 18 three-year-old Victoria was enjoying the freedom of life in the valleys and mountains of Yavapai County.
That morning, Victoria had been outside playing on the trampoline in the garden. At her side, as usual, was Blue, the family’s dog. A Queensland Heeler, he had been the girl’s constant companion for as long as she could remember. In fact, the two were the best of friends.
Later that day, Victoria and her mother left the house to enjoy a walk around the local area. As soon as they returned, the girl was back playing with her faithful dog. At around 5:00 p.m., she was spotted with Blue on the porch of the family home.
However, without warning, the Benschs’ world was suddenly turned upside down. After leaving Victoria alone outside for just a few minutes, her mother returned to find that the girl had disappeared. Panicked, they subsequently began searching the surrounding area.
Nonetheless, although they looked for an hour, Victoria’s family could find no trace of the missing girl. Distraught, they then contacted the authorities. While everyone hoped that Victoria, who was described as being adventurous, had merely wandered away, an extensive search for the girl was launched.
As a result, that night rescue teams descended on Cordes Lakes. Wearing down jackets and scarves to keep out the cold, they combed the area around the town, calling out Victoria’s name in the hope of locating the missing girl. Furthermore, volunteers soon joined in the search.
Indeed, as the night progressed, the entire Cordes Lakes community pulled together to find Victoria. Horses and scent dogs were employed to search the terrain, while night vision glasses and powerful lights were used to penetrate the gloom.
Sadly, the undergrowth was thick, and the search proved a difficult challenge. Moreover, as the hours ticked by, rescuers were no closer to finding Victoria. Soon, the authorities were forced to consider the fact that something more sinister might have happened to the missing girl.
Indeed, was it possible that Victoria had been abducted from outside her family home? Wary of this possibility, deputies from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office began conducting searches of all vehicles leaving the area. Still, no trace of the girl could be found.
As rescuers searched through the night, deputies began taking another approach. Systematically, they visited the home of every registered sex offender in the neighborhood. Thankfully, they found the offenders cooperative, and were soon able to eliminate them from the investigation.
In fact, by the next morning, police had all but ruled out abduction. However, that did not mean that the girl was out of the woods. With temperatures having fallen as low as the mid-30s overnight, rescuers knew that wherever Victoria was, she was in grave danger.
Even for adults, temperatures that low are known to cause serious conditions such as frostbite and hypothermia. So what chance did a three-year-old girl stand, out in the cold all night? Desperate to locate Victoria, the Department of Public Safety subsequently launched a search helicopter as soon as the sun rose.
However, by the time the helicopter took to the air, Victoria had already been missing for almost 15 hours. Then, just five minutes into the flight, medic Eric Tarr and pilot Matthew Uhl saw something on the ground below – the unmistakable shape of a little girl.
Soon, they realized that Victoria had not faced the cold Arizona night alone. Indeed, there by her side was the faithful Blue. Nevertheless, as the helicopter landed just 150 feet away, Victoria’s rescuers were still full of concern. “She wasn’t moving when we first came upon her,” Uhl later told the Arizona Republic website. “She was just kind of looking face-down on the ground.”
As Uhl and Tarr approached, Blue was wary and protective of the little girl. However, once he realized that the men were there to help, his mood shifted to one of excitement. What’s more, when Victoria was loaded on to the helicopter, Blue happily jumped in alongside his young friend.
According to those involved, it’s doubtful whether Victoria would have survived the night without Blue by her side. Indeed, by keeping her warm and alert through the coldest hours, he might well have saved the young girl’s life. “We have to give a lot of credit to Blue,” said Kim Rayfield, Victoria’s aunt.
After her rescue, Victoria was flown to the nearby Phoenix Children’s Hospital to be checked over. Thankfully, she was only suffering from mild frostbite and was allowed to go home after a short stay. Of course, for the Bensch family, the relief was overwhelming.
According to experts, it was canine instinct that helped save Victoria’s life that night. Considering the girl to be one of his pack, Blue would have felt responsible for keeping the girl warm. Whatever the reason, it’s a gesture that her family will forever be thankful for. “I don’t even like animals,” Rayfield confessed in a 2010 interview with KPHO, “and I hugged that dog so hard.”