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72-year-old man found alive after 19 days in forest

He survived by eating squirrels and lizards


A 72-year-old hunter who got hurt in a Northern California forest and was lost for 19 days survived the ordeal by eating squirrels and lizards and covering himself with leaves to stay warm, authorities said Sunday.

Gene Penaflor, 72, of San Francisco, was found Saturday in Mendocino National Forest by other hunters who carried him to safety in a makeshift stretcher, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said in a written statement.

Penaflor had been missing since Sept. 24 when he didn't meet up with his hunting partner for lunch, sheriff's Detective Andrew Porter told the Ukiah Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/1ekjENg ).

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The two had split up for several hours to hunt deer, and during his hike, Penaflor fell and struck his head. He later told detectives he woke up disoriented amid thick fog. He walked for a time but stopped when he didn't know where he was.

Porter said Penaflor decided to spend the night near a water source to tend to a cut on his chin. The next two days, he saw a helicopter and tried to send a smoke signal but no one saw him.

He said he sustained himself on squirrels, lizards, a snake, berries and algae. To keep dry and warm from the rain and snow, he crawled under a large log and covered himself with leaves and grasses, authorities said.

He saw deer but didn't have the energy to shoot them, Porter said.

"He knew at some point he was going to die, but he figured he'd last as long as he could," the detective said.

The sheriff's office said an initial search involving several agencies was called off when a storm was on its way and there was no sign of Penaflor.

The search was reactivated Saturday, and a group of hunters found Penaflor when someone in the group heard a voice calling for help from the bottom of a canyon. He was located about 3 miles from where he had disappeared.

Penaflor's son, Jeremy, told the Daily Journal his father was in good condition after being airlifted to Ukiah Valley Medical Center. After learning that Penaflor had gone missing, his family had been staying in the town closest to his hunting camp.

"I had faith that my dad was still alive," the son said. "With the knowledge that he had, and what he knew how to do, 14 days was nothing to him. I think after 14 days, I would have freaked out."

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