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San Francisco man, 72, found after 18 days in Mendocino Forest

He was feared dead, but after 18 days alone in the Mendocino National Forest, a San Francisco resident has been found alive.

Avid hunter Gene Penaflor, 72, was located Saturday morning -- approximately 3.25 miles from where he went missing -- by a group of hunters at the bottom of a canyon. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office received a call from a member of the group around 8:30 a.m., and sent Search and Rescue units to the remote location where Penaflor was found.

Due to the rough terrain, it took several hours for the rescue units to reach the location, but in the mean time, the group of hunters assembled a makeshift stretcher from their coats and poles. They carried Penaflor up a steep hillside, toward the rescue teams, and eventually to an area where a helicopter could land to extract him.

He was taken to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for medical treatment and released in good health.

Penaflor's son, Jeremy, 31, was waiting for a BART train at the Lake Merritt station in Oakland on Saturday when he received a call from an official involved in the search.

"I asked him 'What's going on?'" Jeremy said. "Then he told me 'hunters found your dad.' I was just in shock. I was shaking."

There were times, Jeremy said, that he feared that call would never come, but he never gave up hope.

"He knew that terrain like the back of his hand," Jeremy said. "He's been hunting for 25-30 years. He reads survival magazines.

"There was times as the weeks went on where it was difficult, but I wouldn't say I lost hope. It was dwindling, he's 72 years old, but I knew knowing what he knew not to give up."

Just a day after his father was found, Jeremy was even able to make light of the situation.

"He's fine," he said. "It's like he went on vacation and came back with a beard."

Members of the family gathered at Penaflor's Bernal Heights home Sunday, where he's resided for 30 years, to watch the 49ers game.

During the first day of his hunt, Penaflor fell, hit his head and was knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he was disoriented and a thick bank of fog had made its way to where he was. After some time spent walking around the area, Penaflor was unable to determine which direction to travel and stopped moving.

He started a fire to keep warm and on days it snowed or rained, he took shelter under a log. He remained in one spot due to a nearby water source.

Temperatures fluctuated between 25 and 70 degrees during the nearly three weeks Penaflor spent alone. He fed himself by killing and eating squirrels in the area.

Penaflor didn't show up at a planned meeting spot with his hunting partner for lunch on Sept. 24 and was reported missing after a mandated 24-hour period. Various agencies assisted in search efforts that went on until Sept. 29, when they were suspended due to lack of clues and a significant incoming storm.

"We really want to say thank you to everybody who helped," Jeremy Penaflor said. "Hopefully he can serve as an inspiration to others."