Missing Boy Scout found alive four days after wandering from camp

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Misha Marshall held her dog, Gandalf, on Tuesday in McGrady, N.C. Gandalf picked up missing Boy Scout Michael Auberry's scent less than a mile from the campsite where he had wandered away from his troop Saturday. (Associated Press Television)

McGRADY, N.C. -- A 12-year-old Boy Scout whose favorite book was about a youngster lost in the wilderness now has his own harrowing survival tale to tell after rescuers found him Tuesday, dehydrated and disoriented from four days in the wooded mountains of North Carolina.

A rescue dog picked up Michael Auberry's scent less than a mile from the campsite where he had wandered away from his troop Saturday. His disappearance touched off an intensive search involving bloodhounds, heat-seeking helicopters and dozens of volunteers on foot.

"This shows that when everybody works together, good things happen," said minister Susan Norman Vickers, who led members of Michael's church in prayer and celebration at a staging area. "We just believed that he was going to be found."

It was not immediately clear exactly how the boy was able to survive or whether he put any of his Scout wilderness training to use. But he had worn two jackets, one of them fleece, and was believed to have a mess kit and potato chips with him when he disappeared. He told the rescue team he had been drinking water from streams.

Searchers spotted Michael walking along a stream before he saw them.

"They called his name. He didn't respond ... Once they said 'We're here to rescue you,' the first thing he said is 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 and could walk and talk. 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.

Bauer said the boy did not immediately say what had happened, and rangers did not ask.

Later, Michael went by ambulance to a medical center. Along the way, he received IV fluids 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 Alaskan 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. "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."

Bauer said as many as 100 people searched for Auberry on Tuesday, including Misha Marshall, whose dog Gandalf picked up the boy's scent.

The black 2-year-old Shiloh Shepherd "popped his head three times" -- and there was Michael, she said.

"He was a little dazed," Marshall said. "You are totally overwhelmed. You at first don't believe he's the person you're looking for."

Searchers gave the boy granola bars, crackers and water.

Authorities had said Michael probably wandered into the woods to explore. Searchers found his mess kit within a mile of the camp site a few hours after he disappeared.

"Michael wasn't real sure he was being rescued," Bauer said. "He was very tired, very hungry. ... He wasn't necessarily looking to be rescued, he was looking for his Boy Scout troop."

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