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Injured hiker rescued after 2 weeks in New Mexico forest

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Posted at 7:41 AM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 09:41:18-04

A hiker who said he was stranded for 14 days in a forest near Santa Fe was rescued Sunday, thanks to the persistence of another hiker and local rescue teams, reports CBS Albuquerque affiliate KRQE-TV. John Utsey told the station he and his two kids were on a trail in the Santa Fe National Forest Saturday when the hiker heard them and started calling out. That would begin a saga that lasted into the next day.

Twenty minutes of shouting back and forth and scrambling 600 yards off the trail down a steep hillside led the family to the man, who was in bad shape. He told them he'd been there for two weeks.

"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 continued. "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.'"

Utsey said he and his kids gave the man all their food and water before hiking the remaining three miles to the trailhead so they could call 911.

Santa Fe firefighters arrived within the hour. The crew had the exact GPS location of the man, which Utsey said he gave them, but they couldn't find him and called off the search after eight hours.

"It was a little bit difficult to have to call off the search and rescue efforts," said Captain Nathan Garcia of the Santa Fe Fire Department.

The news made Utsey feel badly.

"So, I'm laying there like, 'this guy is still in the mountains.' So, at 9 o'clock Sunday morning, I put my hiking boots back on and hiked back and he was exactly where I left him," said Utsey.

Utsey called 911 again, just before noon. This time, he had to wait several hours for crews to arrive, which he says they did around 4 p.m. Utsey then led two separate groups of rescuers to the man.

"Never had we found somebody who had been out for that long," said Garcia, "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 kind of at the end when we did actually encounter him."

Garcia says the man hurt his back while hiking and couldn't even stand up. The man, who is older than 50, went for more than a week without food. He 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," said Garcia.

The hiker's body temperature was so low when crews found him that they made a fire to warm him up. They then wrapped him in blankets and carried him out.

"He had the will to survive for sure," said Garcia.

Firefighters say the man was an experienced hiker; he is recovering at a Santa Fe hospital.

Santa Fe Fire Department Captain Nathan Garcia said the lost hiker has chronic back pain and hurt it again while out hiking, making him unable to stand or walk.

His name was not released. He was recovering in a hospital.