Would you manage to survive for 19 days alone in the forest? What would you do?
These are the questions that 72-year-old Gene Penaflor had to face after losing his hunting partner in the Mendocino Forest of California.
He answered the second question by eating squirrels and leaves, and drinking water from a nearby ditch.
As far as the first question is concerned, though, the facts speak for themselves.
Yesterday Mr Penaflor was finally back at home, recovering from his unexpected adventure in the forest. “He’s fine. He held on”, says his son Jeremy, “He doesn’t appear to have changed except for his beard which has grown”.
Penaflor’s disappearance wasreported to the County Sheriff’s office last 25 September. He had separated from his hunting partner the previous day and there was no sign of him. The authorities had started searching for him, but had called off the operation a few days later because of the lack of tracks and the arrival of a storm.
The search started again on the Saturday. That morning, a hunter reported that someone in his group had heard cries for help from the bottom of a nearby canyon. Rescue parties were despatched to the area indicated. Later, the hunter called the sheriff’s office again to report that they’d found a person and recognised him as Penaflor.
Using branches found in the forest and their jackets, the hunters made a basic stretcher to carry Penaflor out of the canyon, towards the rescue teams. After several hours, the hunters and the rescue party met and Penaflor was transported by helicopter to the nearest hospital.
Penaflor was found 3 miles from where he’d last been seen and had survived by using his wit and eating whatever he managed to find. “Everything you’ve read about what he ate to survive is true. Lizards, a couple of frogs, weed from a nearby stream, squirrels”, said his son. “He told me he went into survival mode. He tried to save energy”.
In the days in which Penaflor was missing, the temperature varied between -4°C and 21°C, according to the sheriff’s office estimates. There were even several snowfalls.
In order to stay dry, Penaflor sheltered under a large tree trunk, and to keep warm he lit a fire and covered himself with dry leaves and grass.