The 12-year-old Boy Scout who survived on creek water for four days alone in the North Carolina mountains had told his tent mate before wandering off to try to hitchhike home that he didn’t want to go on camping trips anymore, a fellow Scout said Wednesday.
At first, the other campers thought Michael Auberry had just gone to clean his mess kit and that he would be back any minute, Griffin Prufer told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday. But the time wore on.
“I noticed my dad going into the woods yelling and screaming his name and blowing whistles and stuff,” Griffin said.
“I was scared,” he said. “He (Michael) said something to his tent mate. He said he didn’t want to go on camping trips anywhere.”
That was early Saturday afternoon. The hours became days as scores of searchers with trained dogs and heat-sensing helicopters scoured the area for the missing Scout.
Then, just before noon on Tuesday, a 2-year-old Shiloh shepherd called Gandalf picked up the boy’s scent, “popped his head three times” and there was Michael, walking along a stream, said Misha Marshall, Gandalf’s trainer.
‘A little dazed’
“He was a little dazed,” Marshall said, and he was tired, hungry and dehydrated, but calm. “You are totally overwhelmed. You at first don’t believe he’s the person you’re looking for.”
The searchers help Michael out of the woods and gave him granola bars, crackers and water. Later, at a hospital with his parents, Michael ate chicken fingers and asked for cookies.
“He was homesick,” said his father, Kent Auberry. “He started walking, and at one point when he was walking he thought maybe he’d walk as far as the road and hitchhike home.”
“We’re going to have our lectures about hitchhiking again,” the father said. “We’ve had them in the past, but with a special vigor, we’ll go over that again with Michael.”
Michael said he slept in tree branches, drank river water and curled up under rocks while he was in the wilderness. “He saw the helicopters and heard people calling him, but he yelled back and they didn’t hear him,” Auberry said.
“He’s got a tremendous life spirit,” the father said, adding that Michael “wants to thank Gandalf especially — even though he ate the peanut butter crackers they gave him.”
‘A lot of hugs’
Michael had worn two jackets, one of them fleece, and was believed to have a mess kit and potato chips with him when he disappeared. Searchers found the kit within a mile of the camp site a few hours after he disappeared. The boy also said he lost his hat and glasses in the woods.
Once rescued, the first thing he said to searchers was that “he wanted a helicopter ride out of there,” said Blue Ridge Parkway ranger David Bauer.
Aside from a few cuts and scratches, Michael was in good health. Because he had been without food and water, he was carried on a stretcher to a nearby road and then taken to see his parents.
“A lot of tears, a lot of hugs,” said Tina White, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.
Later, Michael went by ambulance to the hospital. Along the way, he received IV fluids to help him rehydrate and told his father he wanted to sleep, said ambulance driver Bud Lane.
Michael had worn two jackets, one of them fleece, and was believed to have a mess kit and potato chips with him when he disappeared. The temperature dropped into the 20s some nights, and he said he lost his hat and glasses in the woods.
Once rescued, though, the first thing he said to searchers was that “he wanted a helicopter ride out of there,” said Blue Ridge Parkway ranger David Bauer.
Aside from a few cuts and scratches, Michael was in good health. He was given IV fluids in the ambulance to help him rehydrate and told his father he wanted to sleep, said ambulance driver Bud Lane.
‘A tremendous blessing’
Hours earlier, the boy’s father had talked about one of Michael’s favorite books when he was younger, a story titled “Hatchet” about a boy whose plane crashes in the wilderness, and how the boy survives on his own.
“I think he’s got some of that book in his mind,” said Kent Auberry, whose son had camped overnight several times before. “They do a great job in the Scouts of educating the kids of what to beware of and tips. I’m hopeful that Michael has taken those to heart.”
He said Michael had been a bit reluctant to go on the trip. The boy had asked his dad if he would give him $5 if he didn’t have a good time. Auberry said he assured his son that if he wasn’t happy on the trip, they would do something fun together the next day.
After the rescue, Kent Auberry said: “To have our son back is a tremendous blessing.” But he offered a plea from Michael about making up his sixth-grade schoolwork.
“He’s worried about make-up work in Miss Self’s class,” Auberry said. “So if Miss Self could cut him a break, he would be very, very grateful.”