By ESTES THOMPSON
McGRADY, N.C. –- A rescue dog led searchers Tuesday to a 12-year-old Boy Scout, who was weak and dehydrated but alive in the rugged North Carolina mountains, about a mile from the camp he had wandered away from four days earlier.
“He was a little disoriented, but he was great,” said Misha Marshall, the South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association volunteer whose dog, Gandalf, found Michael Auberry on a wooded ridge.
Michael was across the stream from the trail when Gandalf caught his scent, she said. He wasn’t calling for help, but he wasn’t crying either, and he appeared to be in good physical condition, she said.
“He just said, ’I’m hungry,”’ Marshall said. And he wanted some water.
Joe Ware, Assistant Fire Chief in McGrady, said the boy told the rescue team that picked him up and Marshall up on a nearby road that he had been drinking some water out of the streams in the area.
“He was calm,” though a bit disoriented as he talked to the rescuers, Ware said. “He wanted peanut butter crackers and water.”
Ware said he checked Michael for injuries, then he and the other rescuers carried the boy into a ranger station, where a medical team and his parents met him. He was later taken by ambulance to a hospital.
“We have our missing Boy Scout,” a jubilant National Park Service spokeswoman Tina White said after officials first received word shortly before 11 a.m. that he Michael had been found.
The radio communication from the search team that found Michael set off a celebration among leaders of several Scout troops waiting for news about the boy. “A lot of tears, a lot of hugs,” White said, and members of Michael’s church joined hands to pray at the staging area.
“This shows that when everybody works together, good things happen,” said associate minister Susan Norman Vickers of Christ United Methodist Church. “We just believed that he was going to be found.”
Earlier, the boy’s father talked about his confidence in the rescue teams searching for his son in the damp, cool wilderness.
“What we got here is our son, who’s lost, lost somewhere out there, and we don’t know where he is,” Kent Auberry said. “We’ve got great professionals looking for him. We’re just waiting for the news.”
Dog teams, about 70 people and a plane with heat-sensing equipment had been searching the rugged area around the camp site. Overnight temperatures were in the upper 30s to low 40s on Tuesday, milder than on Sunday night, when temperatures dropped into the 20s.
Michael vanished after lunch with his fellow Scouts and troop leaders on Saturday. His father said the adults and the other boys on the trip told him Michael had slept late but nothing appeared to have been wrong.
“He was in good spirits,” Auberry said. “He ate lunch, chatting with the boys. He was walking around with I think some Pringles and a mess kit. The next moment, sounds like a blink of the eye, he was gone.”
Authorities said the boy probably wandered into the woods to explore.
Searchers found Michael’s mess kit a few hours after he disappeared and within a mile of the camp site. White said they had also found a candy wrapper and a potato chip bag.
While the weather has been chilly, White said Michael was wearing two jackets, one of them fleece.
As a Scout, Michael had had some wilderness training. His father also talked about one of Michael’s favorite books when he was younger, a story 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. “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.”