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Lost Grand Forks couple discovered after helicopter search

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HATTON, N.D. - A Grand Forks couple looking for a new home got lost and stuck Tuesday night in Steele County, west of Hatton, N.D.

It took sheriff's departments from four counties, a friendly farmer and a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter to find the two and get them to safety in wind chills near 25 below.

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The call came in at 5:43 p.m. Tuesday to the Grand Forks County dispatch center.

Miky Telbis, a graduate student in UND's education school, told the dispatcher he and his wife, Manuela, were stuck in the ditch of a dirt road somewhere not far from Aneta, N.D. They had been out looking for a house to live in and got lost, said Steele County Sheriff Wayne Beckman, who ended up in charge of the search because the couple was about a mile inside the northern border of his jurisdiction.

The problem had been that the couple followed the directions from their Global Positioning System mapping feature, which don't always work so well in the rural areas of Steele County, Beckman said. The GPS directed the couple down a township road that turned into a snow-filled prairie road.

After Grand Forks County deputies couldn't locate the couple, they called Steele County, and soon deputies from Nelson and Griggs counties got involved.

"He knew he was approximately 15 miles from Aneta, but we could not find the location," Beckman said.

One problem was the car was stuck in a low area and Telbis' cell phone and GPS locator system weren't getting good reception from cell towers and searchers.

The U.S. Border patrol put up a helicopter to search.

Telbis told authorities his car, a Crown Victoria that had once been a police cruiser, was running and the hazard lights were blinking, Beckman said.

Finally, Telbis walked to the top of a nearby hill and that gave his cell phone the added connectivity to serve as a beacon for searchers.

About 9:30 p.m., the helicopter finally spotted the couple. They were about nine miles west of Hatton, near Sharon, N.D.

Soon, deputies were on the scene and a nearby farmer, Knut Thorsgard, was drafted to pull out the car and sent the couple on their way back to Grand Forks.

"They had two family dogs in the back," Beckman said. "They were fine, had plenty of winter clothing and half a tank of gas left."

But it could have been bad, he said.

Steele County is not small and has only 2,000 people, so there is plenty of empty countryside with roads that are only maintained minimally or not at all during the winter.

"They were very lucky. At the time it was 4 below, and the wind was about 15 mph," Beckman said.

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