'This is a miracle': Missing Palo Alto couple found alive, ending weeklong search in which hopes had dimmed | News | Palo Alto Online |


'This is a miracle': Missing Palo Alto couple found alive, ending weeklong search in which hopes had dimmed

Without food, water or jackets on them, Carol Kiparsky and Ian Irwin survived past week by drinking puddled water

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Ian Irwin, left, and Carol Kiparsky, right, are recovering at Marin General Hospital in Kentfield on Feb. 22 after searchers rescued them near Inverness. Images courtesy Marin County Sheriff's Office.

In an outcome that's being called a "miracle," search and rescue volunteers navigating their way through dense vegetation on Saturday found Palo Alto residents Carol Kiparsky and Ian Irwin about 3 to 4 miles away from their vacation cottage in Marin County, from which they had gone missing eight days earlier.

The couple, who were conscious, cold and without food or water, were dressed in "light evening" attire and without jackets, Sgt. Brenton Schneider of the Marin County Sheriff's Office said at a press conference outside the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department on Saturday afternoon.

"This is a miracle," Schneider said while standing in front of a phalanx of happy search and rescue volunteers, who with personnel from law enforcement, fire and state park agencies looked for seven days for the couple.

The sheriff's office was first notified of the discovery around 10:10 a.m., when search volunteers reported Kiparsky, 77, and Irwin, 72, were "alive and well" in a densely overgrown area near Inverness, Schneider said.

The team of volunteers helping the sheriff's office in the search were canvassing a previously unsearched area of the creek drainage leading to Shallow Beach when they heard yells.

"We looked at each other and we're like, 'That's them,'" Marin Search and Rescue volunteer Quincy Webster said at the press conference. "We rushed over to them."

Webster immediately took off all his gear and provided the couple with warmth and water so they could have enough energy for the helicopter ride away from the scene.

Webster recalled how grateful the couple were: "Thank God you found us. We're so happy," they had said to him.

He was assisted by volunteer Rich Cassens and Groot, a 3-year-old golden retriever, of the California Rescue Dog Association.

The couple had gone for a hike from their cottage on Friday, Feb. 14, but said they got lost in the dark. At some point they fell down but continued on their journey. They wound up stuck in the woods, Schneider said.

Kiparksy attempted to find help and tied her scarf around branches to trace her way back to Irwin, but she was unable to make it out due to thick vegetation.

She was found with no shoes on, Schneider said.

"They thought this was the end for them," he said.

Kiparsky and Irwin survived the past week by drinking water from a nearby puddle, according to Schneider. They were suffering from mild hypothermia, he said.

The Henry 1 helicopter team from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office arrived to take the couple away. By about noon, the couple were extracted and transported to a hospital, according to the sheriff's office. Irwin remained in high spirits, at one point singing a song as the helicopter arrived (Watch a video of the rescue by the Henry 1 team here.)

Kiparsky and Irwin were last heard from on Feb. 14. They were staying in Inverness, a small community about 3.5 miles northwest of Point Reyes Station. They were due to check out the following day and missed an appointment last Sunday.

Deputies concluded there was no suspicion of foul play based on their search of the cottage, which was rented through Airbnb, according to Schneider.

Since Feb. 15, searchers had canvassed the area by ground, air and water in Tomales Bay with help from agencies and volunteers throughout the Bay Area.

The couple were known to take frequent vacations to Inverness and were familiar with trails in the area, Schneider said. Family members described them as "avid hikers" who were practical about their outdoor excursions because Irwin had injured his ankle and leaned toward taking short hikes.

"Literally, we just got a message to us right before it went on Twitter," a relieved Cheryl Irwin, wife of Jonas Irwin -- whose father is Ian Irwin and whose stepmother is Kiparsky -- said on Saturday morning. "We've been given little information because they're focused on extraction."

Jonas Irwin was on his way to pick up his stepbrother, Jonathan Kiparksy, immediately following receipt of the good news, according to Cheryl Irwin.

The discovery of the pair came after days of fruitless searching, which prompted the Marin County Sheriff's Office to declare the search and rescue operation as a "recovery mission" on Thursday.

"The question has come up about us calling this a recovery mission as opposed to a search and rescue mission," Schneider said at Saturday's press conference after the couple were found. "Regardless of what we call the mission the people that you see standing behind me still do what they do. They get out there and they search whether it's for someone who's alive, or who is not alive."

The sheriff's office had resumed its search operation at 8 a.m. Saturday with K9 teams, drones, mounted posse units, boat crews and airplane crews. The agency had search plans in place through Monday, when they would've re-evaluated next steps, Schneider said.

Over the past week, hundreds of volunteers assisted the sheriff's office in its efforts to find the couple. The search spanned 10-12 hours each day.

The sheriff's office grew concerned about the couple's chance of survival given overnight temperatures in Inverness dropped into the 30s over the prior three to four days.

At Saturday's press conference, Schneider said everyone behind him was "ecstatic" over the discovery of the couple.

"Please keep Carol and Ian's families in your thoughts as they start this recovery process."

The couple were in "amazing spirits" on Sunday and appreciative of those who offered them well wishes for their recovery, according to a statement from the Irwin and Kiparsky family issued Sunday by the Marin sheriff's office.

"They will be forever grateful for the hard work and dedication put forth by all of the Search and Rescue volunteers and first responders from all over the Bay Area who searched every day for them," the statement read.

The family has requested privacy as they work toward their recovery, according to the statement.

Sons breathe a sigh of relief

At an impromptu press conference outside of Marin General Hospital on Saturday evening, stepbrothers Jonas Irwin and Jonathan Kiparsky were beyond relieved to find their parents were alive and well.

"This is the best possible ending," said Jonas Irwin, who was raised in Palo Alto and now lives in Livermore. "Our parents are scratched up a little bit, they're probably dehydrated, a little bit of hypothermia, but for the most part, they're in reasonably good health and they'll probably be out of the hospital in 24 hours."

Jonas Irwin was at home when he received an unexpected text message from Schneider that said, "We found them."

"I'm thinking, initially, 'Alright we have bodies and this is better than nothing,'" Jonas Irwin said. But when he learned that his parents were alive, he screamed.

"I'm absolutely ecstatic to see my mother joking with me," said Jonathan Kiparsky, who flew out to the Bay Area from Boston on Tuesday to watch over the search and rescue operations. "To see Ian, who's as close as you can get to a father to me, making the same old wisecracks — he's talking about the old blues song they were singing, about drinking muddy water and (falling) asleep down in a hollow log."

After their family reunion, the stepbrothers learned more about how their parents wound up lost.

"They went out on Valentine's Day to look at the sunset and it got dark," Jonathan Kiparsky said. "They took a wrong turn and they found themselves in trouble and they kept going."

He said the two were just on the other side of a road but blocked by a thicket. Jonas Irwin also said the couple survived on nothing but water from a nearby puddle and parts of a fern for sustenance for eight days.

"My dad told me he was having dreams about a water hose," Jonas Irwin said.

After his parents experienced what seemed like the beginning of end for them, they want to do one thing, he said: "Eat."

The two stepbrothers were also overwhelmed with gratitude for all the agencies and friends that offered their support.

"Thank you to everyone, everyone who was thinking about them, who was searching for them, who has reached out to me and my family about them — thank you," Jonathan Kiparsky said. "There are gonna be parties in Palo Alto, I can tell you that. The town is gonna light up when they roll in."

Neighbors rejoice

Neighbors of Carol Kiparsky and Ian Irwin said they were overjoyed when they learned the couple were found alive on Saturday.

"This is the best birthday present of my life! This is the greatest gift," Connie Jo Cotton said of the news, which arrived on Saturday morning, the day before her birthday. (Cotton is an employee of Embarcadero Media, the parent company of Palo Alto Online.)

Cotton said she has friends who were part of the rescue effort and she received a phone call at 10 a.m. that the couple were safe.

"I just started crying. It's a little overwhelming," she said.

"A few of us have lived on this block for 10, 20 and 30 years. It was hard grasping that one of us has fallen to such a fate."

They always maintained "great hope," however. "Some of us didn't feel like they were truly lost," she said.

Kiparsky and Irwin have at times come to frequent gatherings in University South at a neighbor's home. Since the couple went missing, some residents have had evening meetings to discuss their feelings and share news about the couple's disappearance, she said.

Catherine Cohen, another neighbor who frequents the neighborhood gatherings, said she's known them for more than 10 years.

"They are a fixture in the neighborhood," she said. Irwin was known for strolling in his overalls and tinkering in the couple's yard; Kiparsky is always present in her garden. They are always smiling, she said.

"They are a super sweet couple. I think the only reason they are alive is their love for each other," Cohen added.

Cotton agreed. The couple's upbeat personalities also likely saw them through their ordeal, she said.

A group of the neighbors met on Friday night to share wine and news about Kiparsky and Irwin, Cohen said.

"We've been texting constantly and sending information and getting together," she added.

On Friday, before the pair were found, Cohen spoke to Jonathan Kiparsky, who said the family could use the neighbors' help in their garden and at a plot they kept in the community garden at Eleanor Pardee Park, she said.

The family was thinking about a memorial service, she said.

Their mailbox has already been filled with cards, Jonathan Kiparsky told Cohen.

When she learned Saturday morning that the couple were found, she cried.

"It's been such a long week. It's nice to be able to breathe and not walk past the house and have this overwhelming feeling of sadness," she said.

Cotton said that as connected as the block is, the neighbors will be even closer now after this experience. When Kiparsky and Irwin return, their neighbors plan to have a big party for them.

"We're going to get a big 'Welcome Home' banner," she said.

Videos of rescue courtesy Sonoma and Marin county sheriff's offices.


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91 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2020 at 11:22 am

This is fantastic news! It makes my heart happy!

31 people like this
Posted by Agustina
a resident of University South
on Feb 22, 2020 at 11:23 am

This is great news. I’m so happy this had a happy ending.
I wonder what happened to them and I hope they provide more info.

58 people like this
Posted by Elsa
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2020 at 11:35 am

Big thanks to the rescue team!!

28 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2020 at 11:39 am

Wonderful news indeed. Look forward to reading the full story.

52 people like this
Posted by Trish Bubenik
a resident of University South
on Feb 22, 2020 at 11:49 am

SO HAPPY CAROL AND IAN HAVE BEEN FOUND!!!! Our friends and neighbors will soon be home!!! We will plan a huge celebration!!!

40 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2020 at 12:23 pm

Our tax dollars at work. Great that they found them alive and didn’t quit searching. In some other countries, life is cheap. We are so fortunate to live here.
[Portion removed.]

83 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2020 at 12:32 pm

Wow! Many thanks to the many search and rescue professionals and volunteers who did not give up.

38 people like this
Posted by Wonderful news!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2020 at 1:03 pm

Thank goodness for the heroic persistence of the many people who participated in this search. I'm so glad to know that all is well.

90 people like this
Posted by 3M
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2020 at 1:05 pm

CORRECTION TO CITIZEN: Volunteer, NOT tax dollars at work. “Anytime, Anywhere, Any Weather” - Marin County Search & Rescue (Marin SAR), a division of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, is an all-volunteer organization comprised of approximately 80 members ranging in age from 14-75. ... Its all-volunteer status saves taxpayers almost $2,000,000 annually (based on Sheriff Department estimates).
Donate at www.marinsar.org/donate/

24 people like this
Posted by Casey C
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 22, 2020 at 1:11 pm

The best news!!! I'm so grateful they're alive! Love them both so much.

30 people like this
Posted by Oh
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 22, 2020 at 1:49 pm

@3M: "All volunteer", still costed us some money. Sheriff was involved, helicopters, etc. I'm often reading about lost hikers. Glad they were found alive, but irresponsible behavior should have to pay back the costs of a search & rescue.

24 people like this
Posted by Happy
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2020 at 1:55 pm

Praise God for answered prayers! Praying for rescue operation to continue to go smoothly, and everyone be kept safe and victims to recover well.

9 people like this
Posted by who
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2020 at 2:09 pm

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Suemah
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2020 at 2:43 pm

wonderful news!!

9 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 22, 2020 at 3:02 pm

Photo shows Sonoma County Sheriff's Bell 407 helicopter N108SC. Online tracking data available, dispatched from Santa Rosa around 10:30am probably shortly after the couple were located by ground searchers. Looks like extraction area was less than two hiking miles northwest of Via De La Vista. Google map shows a trail heading inland from Shell beach.

13 people like this
Posted by Ben Dover
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 22, 2020 at 3:18 pm

I remember back in circa 1994 when Atherton resident Alan Austin was lost for two days and two nights in the winter near a Tahoe ski area. A massive search and research effort was launched, and was eventually successful. At that time, it was California policy that the home county (in this case San Mateo County) of the lost person was assessed a big chunk of the monies used to pay for the local rescue attempt. Is that still this case? In other words, will Santa Clara county be charged for the recent rescue?

By the way, I’m glad they were found! Happy recovery!

64 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 22, 2020 at 3:54 pm

To those who seem to object to taxes being used for rescue operations: Accidents happen. Who says anyone is responsible? Or irresponsible?
The chances of you being in a car accident is greater than these people falling off a cliff, or whatever happened to them. [Portion removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Illuminato
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2020 at 4:10 pm

I'm surprised the searchers didn't give up. That's a long time to be missing in the woods and still be found alive.

22 people like this
Posted by Relieved!
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 22, 2020 at 5:04 pm

Such good news!
A BIG Thank you to the volunteer search and rescue teams. They said hundred had spent 10+ hours per day last week looking for them.

And a good reminder to always hike with a few key items: flashlight, whistle, water, snacks, first aid kit & emergency blanket especially since so many areas still don't have cell coverage.

45 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 22, 2020 at 5:07 pm

This is wonderful news! They've been on my mind all week.

Can't believe anyone thinks they should pay back expenses for the search -- our taxes pay for these services and they are provided reciprocally (Marin County covers this rescue, Santa Clara and San Mateo County covers the rescue of non-residents in need). Things happen, and I'm grateful for the hundreds of volunteers and rescue professionals who put in so much effort to find them. They should be proud!

55 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 22, 2020 at 6:04 pm

Can we please just be happy they were found for a few minutes before we start grousing about tax dollars?

Without knowing more, I’m loathe to blame this couple for becoming lost on a hike.

We pay taxes to support emergency services. Emergency services exist to help people in emergencies! Let’s all be grateful the system worked.

32 people like this
Posted by Grateful
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 22, 2020 at 6:44 pm

Thank goodness! Welcome back.

(Agree that the taxpayer/paying back is tasteless discussion! We are here to help each other and this kind of search is well worth it!)

22 people like this
Posted by SCR
a resident of University South
on Feb 22, 2020 at 6:45 pm

We're so very happy they've been found and in better shape than anyone could have hoped for. It's been a hole in our heart for the last week and now our friends are going to come home.

Emergency services like this are the way we care for each other. It's a reflection of our values (values shared around the world, btw).

We're so thankful for the volunteers and departments that persevered even when things looked essentially hopeless.

We encourage people to donate to Marin Search and Rescue, an organization of volunteers, who go out of their way for other people, and who made the difference between life and death in this situation. We have donated to them. We hope others will too.

Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by Rose A
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 22, 2020 at 7:42 pm

I’m so glad they were found and are recovering from their ordeal. I’m glad we have the resources that were used to search for them.

15 people like this
Posted by becca
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2020 at 7:51 pm

I don't know the couple but I worried. I felt no one should think they were dead at only 7 days. They could have been forced in to a car or anything.
People have disappeared in Point Reyes and anyone disappearing makes others afraid to visit such places, like the airbnb where the couple stayed if they were never found.
These people helped people. Working with lingistics and parkinsons, yet some people say nasty things.
I am very happy they were found in good spirits.
The expense is ok. People get help all the time in Yosemite and many places.
Anyone can have something go wrong and manybplaces have no cell phone useage

17 people like this
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2020 at 9:11 pm

When does the movie come out?

14 people like this
Posted by Still confused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2020 at 9:30 pm

I’m still confused, why if he was described (earlier) as an experienced hiker - even survival expert - did he go on a twilight hike w/o basic preparations, cell phone?

32 people like this
Posted by Family
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2020 at 9:58 pm

Groot! Groot! Groot! Yay! I'm ecstatic, too, and I don't even know them. This is a real answer to prayers! Three lost hikers found alive thanks to dedicated searchers. Thanks to EVERYONE who cares so much about your fellow man that you get involved this way! You sound like lovely people, Carol and Ian, from my family to yours, all the best for a speedy recovery!

I think the situation is just a reminder to everyone about how important it is to be prepared, even for short day hikes, even if the hikers are experienced. This could have happened to anyone, and in fact is happening a lot more now:
More people heading into wilderness unprepared is a national phenomenon, especially urban wilderness.
Web Link

And to the posters above who see only $ and cents:
Web Link
"Many internet commenters (most of whom probably don’t go hiking all that much, either) have suggested charging the hikers for their rescues. I know several SAR volunteers read this site and they’ve rightly said that when you put a price tag on a rescue, it actually makes people more likely to get in trouble because they won’t call for help when they need it." (The rest of the article grapples with the phenomenon of how to reach unprepared hikers in urban wilderness.)

This sounds like a very innocent jaunt to see the sunset, not a night hike (for which they would surely have prepared themselves). Sometimes people make mistakes, especially in unfamiliar places, and I'm so glad this had a happy ending. It feels wonderful to know that they were found due to such dedication, concern, and expertise.

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2020 at 7:16 am

I agree with the previous poster completely.

However, I think now is a good time to remind ourselves of common safety measures when we go out for a hike of any type, whether it be in the Baylands or Foothills Park.

Always take water, and always tell someone where you are going and when you are expecting to be back. These are just basic common sense measures. Furthermore, long sleeves (even in summer), sensible shoes, hat, snacks, and yes a phone and your wallet make sense too. Many of these things would not have helped Carol and Ian after 8 days, but may make a difference for the first 24 hours. Their experience is very unusual, normally a much shorter time would be the norm for a hiker who gets lost or has some type of accident.

So pleased that they are safe. Look forward to hearing their full story.

8 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 23, 2020 at 12:10 pm

According to the SJ Mercury News: “The vegetation was so dense, one team spent nearly two hours crawling through it at one point during the search.”

It was Valentine’s Day. Perhaps staying inside their room would have been a safer choice. At least in the night time cold weather, they probably kept each other warm.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2020 at 1:11 pm

What caused these avid hikers and experienced outdoorspeople to go on a hike without a cellphone or ID on either of them? If you don't want the cell phone to take away from the nature, fine, turn it off. But both avid hikers without a cell phone?

You can buy a tiny GMRS radio for about $20 just to have on you when you hike. Any experienced outdoorsman will know this. I can see young novices not taking any communication or ID. But graying experienced hikers?

6 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 23, 2020 at 3:08 pm

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Liz
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2020 at 6:17 pm

What is the time limit for the “Breaking News” banner? They were found yesterday morning.

8 people like this
Posted by Family
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2020 at 8:29 pm

"What caused these avid hikers and experienced outdoorspeople to go on a hike without a cellphone or ID on either of them? If you don't want the cell phone to take away from the nature, fine, turn it off. But both avid hikers without a cell phone? "

It doesn't sound like they really went out on a hike, it sounds like they just went out to catch the sunset and got lost in the waning light. I've been thinking about this and the AirBnB situation -- a hotel, they'll make sure the guests have a view/can walk around the grounds. An AirBnB, you're on your own. Their place seemed to be near the water and dense woods, if it were a hotel, it's probably a reasonable bet to take a jaunt down, watch the sunset, and walk back to the room. Nothing about this indicates they were actually taking a hike. I am just thrilled they were found, and there is plenty of time to talk of other things later. But I do think it is potentially another AirBnB buyer beware situation.

8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2020 at 8:43 pm

"What is the time limit for the “Breaking News” banner? They were found yesterday morning."

It's up to the editor. I generally read the banner when I first see it, when it's breaking news for me, then if I see it again later I figure it's not breaking news for me anymore but it's still breaking news for the people who haven't read it yet, and I let it go. Hope that answers your question.

8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2020 at 12:31 am

Tax dollars, not tax dollars .... so what if it was tax dollars?

The people complaining about taxes are always the ones with the most dollars who are the same ones in power to manipulate the economy to suit them and NOT using the tax dollars we have effectively purposefully to make everyone hate and resent taxes and feel they are a rip-off.

These folks pretend to be anti-socialists, but could more accurately be labels anti socialists in that they are related to the same group that claims society is a fiction. Only when it is outside their little power group does society become a fiction.

4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2020 at 8:57 am

Posted by Family, a resident of Barron Park

(As for the "tax dollar" comments -- there is an internet word for someone making such a comment. Ignore the ____.)

>> It doesn't sound like they really went out on a hike, it sounds like they just went out to catch the sunset and got lost in the waning light.

Happens quite often. People go out for a walk and get caught out.

Another thing that can happen in the California coastal ranges is that people accidentally follow deer tracks that intersect trails, and, get stuck behind Manzanita thickets. People have gotten stuck this way where the main trail was only 100 feet away, but, impossible to reach through the Manzanita. IOW, you don't have to be "on a hike", just on a short stroll and confused by a deer track.

It sounds like the location they were picked up is identified. Could someone post the coordinates, so that we look look at the area on a map? I do hope someone will dissect what happened and explain how it evolved. We all can learn from incidents like this.

19 people like this
Posted by KTVU watcher
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 24, 2020 at 9:22 am

The rescuers have been interviewed this morning on KTVU news. The young man is 18 years old and a high school senior, having done this rescue work for 3 years. The dog handler and dog were out looking for remains, not expecting to find them alive.

These two are the real heroes of society.

4 people like this
Posted by Ian Irwin's Thumb
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 24, 2020 at 9:39 am

That's one hell of a thumbs up! Happy to see them safe and home.

2 people like this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2020 at 12:57 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 24, 2020 at 5:11 pm

@Anon, best I can tell, Shell Beach is lat 38.1173 N, lon 122.8745 W, maybe 1/2 mile from the cottage. Shallow Beach is 0.6 mile further north at 38.1233, 122.8820 (note 0.0001 deg is around 30 feet). Johnstone Trail is shown uphill/inland from Shell Beach towards the Shallow Beach creek drainage. Helicopter tracking data were erratic on that scale, but looked like transfer to ambulance waiting on nearby Pierce Point Road.

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