A WOMAN from Peterlee has been found dead in a hospital stairwell in America, more than two weeks after going missing.
Lynne Spalding disappeared from her room at San Francisco General Hospital on September 21.
The 57-year-old, who had lived in the States for 23 years, was last seen in bed at 10.15am that day by a nurse.
Fifteen minutes later she was gone.
She was found by a member of the hospital’s engineering staff on a routine check 17 days after she vanished.
Officials said they are investigating how she got on to the outside stairwell, what caused her death and why a search did not locate her sooner.
David Perry, the mother-of-two’s friend and family spokesman, demanded answers, saying her “stunned” family were enduring a “nightmare”.
The hospital and sheriff’s department conducted a search of the premises and Ms Spalding’s friends and relatives spent days scouring the streets of the California city with flyers because they were “under the assumption that San Francisco General had been searched and Lynne was not here”.
“Lynne Spalding died alone, in the stairwell, at one of the finest medical institutions in this country,” said Mr Perry.
“I hear that the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department initiated a search. Well, evidently it wasn’t a very good one. I think there are a lot of questions to be asked.”
And Mr Perry told Sky News: “We are grieving, but that grief is leading to an absolute sense that we must find out the truth, not only for Lynne, but to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
He added that the marketing and sales expert had retained her British accent, which was “thick enough to peel the paint off a ship.”
“She was the very best of England and the United States combined,” he said.
“Her loss will be felt greatly, not only in her family but across San Francisco because everyone knew Lynne Spalding here.”
Todd May, the San Francisco General Hospital chief medical officer, said: “What happened at our hospital is horrible.
“We are here to take care of patients, to heal them, to keep them safe. This has shaken us to our core. Our staff is devastated.”
Ms Spalding arrived at the hospital thin and frail with her children worried about her condition.
She had been treated for two days before she vanished.
Assistant sheriff Paul Miyamoto said: “All of us are committed to learning what happened and ensuring it never happens again.”