Boy Scout Found Alive After 4 Days In North Carolina Wilderness A 'Tremendous Blessing'

Wednesday, March 21st 2007, 7:38 am
By: News On 6

McGRADY, N.C. (AP) _ The lost Boy Scout who survived on creek water for four days in the North Carolina mountains had told a friend before wandering off _ apparently to try to hitchhike home _ that he didn't want to camp out anymore, a fellow Scout said Wednesday.

Twelve-year-old Michael Auberry had slept in that morning while the other Scouts went hiking, but he seemed fine when they returned for lunch.

The boys thought he had just gone to clean his mess kit after eating, fellow Boy Scout Griffin Prufer told NBC's ``Today'' show Wednesday. But as the time wore on, they grew worried.

``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 search dog named Gandalf caught Michael's scent about a mile from the Scout troop's camp site.

Gandalf ``popped his head three times'' and there was Michael, walking along a stream, said Misha Marshall, the 2-year-old Shiloh shepherd's trainer.

``He was a little dazed,'' Marshall said, and he was tired, hungry and dehydrated, but calm. 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 celebration service was planned Wednesday evening at the family's church in Greensboro, though organizers said they didn't expect Michael or his family to attend.

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.

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,'' Auberry said.

He said Michael had been 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 him that if he wasn't happy on the trip, they would do something fun together the next day.

``To have our son back is a tremendous blessing,'' Auberry said Tuesday afternoon. He also 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.''