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Lost man, 72, ate squirrels to survive 19 days in CA wilderness

Gene Penaflor is seen in the hospital surrounded by his family. He was lost for 19 days in the Mendocino National Forest before he was found Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (Jeremy Penaflor)
October 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A 72-year-old man says he survived 19 days lost in the wilderness by eating lizards, frogs and squirrels.

Gene Penaflor was found Saturday after he vanished in the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California. He was on an annual hunting trip.

"He goes hunting every year, and he comes home every year," his daughter-in-law Deborah Penaflor said Monday outside Gene Penaflor's small home in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood. "We'd gotten a little complacent that he would always come back."

He separated from his hunting partner for a couple hours to hunt deer. During that time, he hit his head and passed out.

He woke up after what appeared to be a full day unconscious, with his chin and lip badly gashed. He noticed fog and morning dew and realized he'd been out for a while, Deborah Penaflor said.

To survive, he ate squirrels and other animals he shot with his rifle, drank water from a drainage source, huddled under logs to stay out of the snow and rain, and kept warm by making fires using leaves and grass.

The search resumed Saturday, and a group of hunters found Gene Penaflor when someone in the group heard a voice calling for help from the bottom of a canyon. He was found about 3 miles from where he had disappeared.

When his family heard he'd been found alive, they rushed to the mountain to meet him.

"There were tears of joy on the top of that mountain," Deborah Penaflor said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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