A 25-year-old woman who spent Thursday night alone in the wilderness near Pitt Lake wearing only a bikini and a hooded sweatshirt has been reunited with her family.

Stephanie Puls was out with friends at around 6:30 p.m. at a remote hot spring that can only be accessed by boat or air when she vanished.

She wasn’t seen again for almost 16 hours, when private helicopter pilot Dean Russell joined search crews and spotted her from the skies waving a makeshift flag she’d crafted using her sweatshirt and a stick.

“I just got lost,” Puls told CTV News Friday. “I went to go to the washroom, got separated from the group for five minutes and fell and got disoriented and lost my way.”

A search was launched Thursday evening with volunteers from Pitt River Lodge, but they found no sign of her whereabouts. Crews worked into the night then picked up their efforts in the morning.

Sgt. Dale Somerville of the Ridge Meadows RCMP said authorities were most worried about Puls, who also had no shoes on, being exposed to wild animals and chilly weather.

“It was pretty close to freezing and that is our biggest concern,” Somerville said. “It’s rough country up there.”

Fortunately, the woman suffered only minor injuries and dehydration by the time Russell found her on a gravel bank roughly five kilometres from where she was last seen. He landed his helicopter and helped Puls back to safety.

“She was crying most of the time actually, she was pretty relieved,” Russell said. “She had a pretty bad night there with bears and insects and cold.”

But the search had a happy ending for Puls and her loved ones, who joined the rescued woman for a tearful reunion.

“I just want to say thank you to everybody,” she said. “Just a lot of effort and energy everybody went through to help find me.”

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Michele Brunoro