An experienced hiker over the age of 50 was stranded in the Santa Fe National Forest for 14 days and was finally rescued when a stranger heard his desperate calls for help.
The frantic two-day rescue mission unfolded on Saturday when hiker John Utsey was walking with his kids up Winsor Trail.
Utsey called out for his daughter and heard a stranger’s voice reply from way off the trail, leading to the discovery of the lost man who was starving, delirious, had lips so badly chapped they were bleeding, and pain in his back that prevented him from standing.
‘He was lying beside a creek. His legs didn’t…he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t move, he was delirious. So he wasn’t making much sense,’ Utsey said to KRQE.
‘His lips were all chapped to the point they were bleeding. His tongue was swollen; he was super gaunt and skinny. I was like this guy really needs help,’ he added.
The family found him about 600 yards off the trail down a steep hillside. Utsey and his two kids gave the man all of the food and water they had and hiked the remaining three miles to the trailhead to call 911.
Santa Fe firefights descended within an hour and had the exact GPS location of the hiker thanks to Utsey.
But when they arrived they couldn’t find the hiker and after eight painstaking hours, they called off the search.
‘It was a little bit difficult to have to call off the search and rescue efforts,’ Captain Nathan Garcia of the Santa Fe Fire Department said.
But Utsey couldn’t rest knowing the man was still wandering in the wildnerness, so the following morning he set out to find him on his own.
‘So, I’m laying there like, this guy is still in the mountains. So, at 9 o’clock Sunday morning I get in and put my hiking boots back on and hike back and he was exactly where I left him,’ Utsey said.
Utsey called the police again right before noon and rescue crews arrived around 4pm. Utsey then led two separate groups of rescuers to the man.
Officials say they’ve never encountered someone who has survived for that long in the wild on their own.
Rescue crews found the man with his back hurt, injured while hiking to the point that he couldn’t stand up.
His body temperature was so low firefighters made a fire to arm him up and wrapped him in blankets before carrying him out.
The man, who is older than 50, went more than a week without food and was relying on his filtering water bottle for survival.
‘He would wiggle his way to the stream. He would drink water from the stream and then wiggle his way away from the stream at nightfall because of the colder temperatures that the stream brought,’ Garcia said.
‘He had the will to survive for sure,’ Garcia added.
‘Never had we found somebody who had been out for that long. It’s hard to say. The human body can do some amazing things sometimes but I don’t think he had very much left in him. He seemed kinda of at the end when did actually encounter him,’ Garcia said.
The man, whose name has not been released, is now recovering at a Santa Fe Hospital.