CORNER BROOK — What started out as a walk in the woods in search of grouse turned into a nearly 24-hour ordeal for a Corner Brook man.
The man, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, was picked up by a helicopter in behind Pinchgut Lake just before 10 a.m. Thursday.
Despite spending the night in the woods — with only a lighter, shot gun and a knife — the man was in good spirits and did not require medical care.
“Tired, wet,” were the two words the 58-year-old used to describe how he felt when reached at his home.
The only thing hurt, he said, was his pride.
The man left from a friend’s cabin in the Rocky Pond area about 22 kilometres in behind Lady Slipper Road around 11 a.m. Wednesday.
“I was only going out for a 20-minute hike,” he said. “I intended to go to Little Stag Hill and just turn around, walk around that bog and come on back again. But I got waylaid there somewhere and I took a wrong turn.”
He tried to get back on track, found a brook and started following it.
“The brook turned into a stream and I started following the stream for God only knows how long,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the day went on and the man didn’t return, his friend contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Police were able to make contact with the man by cellphone, but Sgt. Terry Foster of the Corner Brook RCMP said they were not able to “ping’’ the man’s phone to determine his location.
To aid in the search the RCMP called in the Bay of Islands Search and Rescue team at about 6:20 p.m.
Shawn Street, team co-ordinator, said his crew quickly mobilized and set up its search operation at the cabin the man had left from.
Sixteen members of the team combed the area into the night.
Besides being in some rugged terrain, Foster said the man also had to contend with a small snowfall.
“Throughout the night in attempts to locate him, flares were used and they spoke to him by cellphone,” said Foster. He could see the flares, so they kept trying to move towards his location.”
Street said after firing the flares it was determined that the man was nowhere near the cabin and was closer to Pinchgut Lake.
“And by the clues that he could give us, where he followed the brook, we tried to follow exactly the way he took last night,” said Street.
By doing so they were able to pick up fresh tracks early in the night.
Searchers figure the man was about 15 kilometres from the cabin, but that he walked a greater distance than that.
Street said it is not common for people lost in the woods to follow a brook or path. Instead, they normally walk in circles.
But the area the man was in is scattered with woods roads and a lot of the brooks are crossed by bridges. Street said the man was hoping to pick up one of them.
Having cellphone connection with his searchers through the night gave the man some comfort.
“But I was still looking forward to seeing someone come up around the turn, but that didn’t happen,” he said.
The man managed to keep a small fire going for most of the night, but because of the dark didn’t stray far from the steam, except to get wood for the fire.
“I couldn’t go too far, just off the side of the stream.”
He said he would feel his way around to find pieces of trees and limbs.
“If it cracked good it was dry wood,” he said.
At about 6 a.m. Thursday the search and rescue team went out to pick up more supplies and made a plan for the day.
More flares were fired and they were able to determine the man was in a steep part of the valley.
Street said the best option to get him out was to use a helicopter and one was arranged through Fire and Emergency Services Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It would have taken us another six hours to get to him,” said Street. “And he was starting to get pretty tired. He was awake all night.”
The man informed searchers by phone when the helicopter was over him and he was located at 9:15 a.m. The helicopter was able to land close to him and then flew him out to nearby Pinchgut Restaurant where he was met by searchers and family members.
“He was cold and wet, but he was in good spirits. As well as can be expected for someone who spent the night in the woods.”
Safe at home later in the morning, the man had great praise for his rescuers.
“I made it out and I’m very, very appreciative for the search and rescue. They did a No. 1 job. And the RCMP, those gentlemen should be commended for how they carried themselves.”