A New Mexico dad and his kids found themselves at the forefront of a two-day rescue mission after stumbling across an injured hiker stranded in the forest. The hiker had been in the mountains for 14 days and was on the brink of death.
John Utsey and his two kids had been hiking on Santa Fe National Forest’s Windsor Trail on Aug. 15. Utsey’s daughter had forged ahead out of sight, and he called out loudly to her, according to CBS.
Having heard him, she responded, yelling back. But so did another voice, a man, from far off the trail.
Twenty minutes of calling back and forth eventually led Utsey and his kids down a 600-yard hillside toward a stream, where they found the hiker who had injured his back.
“He was lying beside a creek,” Utsey told KRQE-TV. “… He couldn’t stand. He couldn’t move. He was delirious. So he wasn’t making much sense.”
The hiker’s lips were chapped and bleeding, and his tongue was swollen, the father of two told the news outlet. The man was an experienced hiker over the age of 50, and he had a chronic back injury that had been aggravated during a hike. He said he had been stranded for 14 days and his gear had been stolen.
During the second week, he ran out of food and drank from a nearby stream, “wiggling” his way to the stream and then back again at nightfall to avoid the colder temperatures near the water.
“He was super gaunt and skinny,” Utsey recalled. “I was like, ‘This guy really needs help.’”
Utsey and his kids left their own food and water for the ailing hiker before setting out for the trailhead 3 miles away, where they called 911 and gave GPS coordinates for a search-and-rescue team to locate the injured man.
However, when the team set out to recover him later that day, they failed to locate the hiker and called off the search after eight hours.
Dismayed that the hiker was still out in the mountains, Utsey set out again in the morning on Aug. 16. He found him right where they had left him, and once again he called for help. This time, Utsey waited with the man until help arrived four hours later.
“Never had we found somebody who had been out for that long,” said Captain Nathan Garcia of the Santa Fe Fire Department, after his team located the man at last. “The human body can do some amazing things sometimes but I don’t think he had very much left in him. He seemed kind of at the end when we did actually encounter him.”
When they found him, the hiker was hypothermic, so the rescuers lit a fire and wrapped him in a solar blanket to warm his temperature before carrying him out of the forest on a stretcher.
The Sante Fe Fire Department shared photos of the rescue mission on Facebook, thanking Utsey as well as the Atalaya, Santa Fe, and los Alamos search-and-rescue teams for their invaluable contribution. Everyone involved in the search was relieved to find the injured man alive.
“He had the will to survive for sure,” said Garcia. At the time of writing, the hiker is recovering in a hospital from his 14-day ordeal.
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