A 72-year-old lost hunter survived 19 days eating algae, lizards, and squirrels in Mendocino National Forest after slipping and losing consciousness in a steep terrain during a hunting trip on Sept. 24.
Gene Penaflor was missing for nearly three weeks when a hunter called the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday morning claiming that he and his friends could hear a man crying for help from down in a valley. The cry for help was from Penaflor himself who was separated from his hunting buddy when they walked into the Yuki Wilderness down two different ridges, the Ukiah Daily Journal reports.
Penaflor was found in surprisingly good condition after being cut from humanity for 19 days — enduring snowfall and temperatures that dropped to 25°F some nights. He even managed to keep himsel fed.
The 72-year-old man, a hunter for 30 years, satisfied his appetite by killing and cooking his food in the wilderness. While Penaflor still had his hunting rifle, he did not have the strength to hunt a deer. "He told me it was mainly in survival mode. He was trying to save energy," said Penaflor’s son, Jeremy, to CNN.
The experienced hunter, who reads survival magazines, was well-equipped with knowledge and strong survival instincts. Penaflor focused on eating algae from a stream and drank water from a creek to quench his thirst. Although algae is a form of bacteria, there are many types that are edible and have nutritional value. The hunter also ate squirrels, lizards, a snake, and berries to gain energy to find his way out of the forest.
According to LiveScience, a person can survive the wilderness by remembering “The Rule of Threes.” A person can live three minutes without air, three hours without shelter in a harsh environment, three days without water, and three weeks without food. There are people who have survived eight to 10 days without water, but it is strongly advised to seek hydration as soon as possible.
To keep warm, the hunter built a fire and set up a makeshift shelter of leaves for warmth, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal. Penaflor also used damp leaves on his fire to send a smoke signal when he saw a helicopter numerous times, but due to fog and zero visibility, no one was able to see him.
Penaflor lacked sufficient strength to reach the hill to signal for help. "I asked him why he didn't just walk back up the hill, and he said he didn't have enough energy to hike back up," Mendocino County Sheriff's Office detective, Andrew Porter, told Ukiah Daily Journal. "He knew at some point he was going to die, but he figured he'd last as long as he could."
"It was hard on the family," Jeremy said. "I knew my dad would do what he needed to do to survive, even if it meant eating squirrels or the occasional bug."
"If he decides to hunt in a couple of years, that's fine. But we joked around and said let's make it a camping trip."