Rescued Alaska man spent 7 nights outdoors with no food

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — The fly fisherman reported missing on Saturday was found Tuesday in good condition in the Salmon Bay Lake area and returned to Ketchikan on a Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad floatplane.

David Ford, 57, was found at 12:40 p.m. Tuesday after search and rescue volunteers followed a trail they initially discovered Monday night, said KVRS spokesman Chris John. Ford’s footprints led off in an unexpected direction, along a stream that takes off to the north from the main creek connecting Salmon Bay Lake to the saltwater below at Salmon Bay.

“It’s great news,” John said. “He seems to be fine.”

“I’m alive,” Ford said in a telephone interview. “I’m extremely grateful. I’m no hero. The heroes are the people that found me.”

Medical technicians with KVRS evaluated Ford and found that he didn’t need any special treatment to get him out of the woods safely, said John. Rescuers provided a change of clothing and helped him warm up, before helping him to walk out, said John.

He boarded a floatplane at about 2:30 p.m. for Ketchikan, John said.

The next problem for KVRS was to get its volunteers out before nightfall Tuesday.

“That lake is a blowhole, especially from the southeast,”?John said.

Searchers, who found a trail of footprints Monday night, resumed following it Tuesday morning, John said.

“Today, we saturated that area,” he said.

They followed Ford’s tracks for two hours, and at one point saw the trail turned in the opposite direction. He was found soon after, said John.

Ford and his rescuers took about a half-hour hike to a helicopter landing zone, said John. A Temsco helicopter, which had been working the entire search, then took Ford to the KVRS communications van on a nearby road. KVRS incident commander Jerry Kiffer evaluated Ford there and found he was in good condition, said John. The helicopter then took Ford to the Salmon Bay Lake cabin, where a KVRS volunteer pilot loaded Ford into his Cessna 185 floatplane to bring him home to Ketchikan.

He arrived in Ketchikan at about 3:30 p.m., where Alaska State Troopers had arranged for an ambulance to meet him, said John. Ford declined treatment, John said.

Ford had traveled to Salmon Bay Lake on a chartered Taquan Air floatplane last Tuesday morning, said John. He had arranged to be picked up Saturday, but was not at the cabin when the pilot arrived, according to troopers.

John said searchers found that food and other provisions Ford had brought seemed to have been untouched. That seemed to indicate that Ford might have become lost early in his stay at the lake, said John.

On Tuesday, Ford said that’s exactly what happened.

“I made a few small mistakes that led to big mistakes,” he said. “I spent seven nights outside without any food. I was carrying one rod. I wasn’t prepared to stay outdoors.”

Ford said he was wearing layered clothing, and never became hypothermic, but was never warm during the days he remained lost. He didn’t sleep, he said.

He realized he was mixed up and would be unable to get back to the Forest Service cabin before dark on that first night, he said. He had a small flashlight and tried for a time to find his way out, but without success, said Ford.

On Wednesday morning, he resumed his efforts to find his way back to the creek he had intended to fish, and the trail up to Salmon Bay Lake and the skiff he had tied there.

The effort failed again, as it did on the succeeding days, but he managed to return to the same starting place each day, he said.

“I didn’t want to get any more lost than I already was,” Ford said.

“I had accepted the fact that I would die out there if no one found me.”

On one of the last days, after dark, he saw the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and guessed correctly that its crew was attempting to find him with its infrared camera.

“I waded out in the creek and waved,” he said.

On another, he saw the Island Wings floatplane.

Without food, Ford said, he drank a lot of water.

“I lived on water; I guess I drank enough to stay alive,” he said.

“There’s no way to thank everyone for saving my life,” Ford said. “They put in the effort and saved my life.”

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