After three days and nights in the rugged terrain of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, 12-year-old Boy Scout Michael Auberry is resting at home.
Michael, who had been missing since Saturday, was found Tuesday by a 2-year-old rescue dog named Gandalf.
Officials had given Gandalf an article of Michael's clothing to pick up his scent. The dog's owner, Misha Marshall, a volunteer from South Carolina, was the first to see the boy after Gandalf had spotted him.
"We saw his red jacket," Marshall said. "It was overwhelming. It took a second to register, but then everything fell into place and we knew it was Michael."
Rescuers said that though Michael was tired, he was cognizant enough to know what he wanted.
"He was somewhat disoriented but still with it. Once they said they were there to rescue him, he asked for a helicopter ride out," said David Bauer, a ranger with the National Parks Service.
Instead of a helicopter, Michael had to settle for a ride to the hospital on a stretcher, but he did get chicken fingers -- his meal of choice. Michael ate no food or vegetation during the four days he was missing, and survived by drinking water out of streams.
"It took him a minute to register who we were, but then he did and he was hungry so we gave him a snack and water," Marshall said.
Homesickness Led Him Away
More than 100 rescue workers had searched more than 6,000 rugged acres, but Michael was found less than a mile from the original camp site. He told his father that he had left his troop because he had gotten "homesick."
"He was homesick and he started walking," said his father, Kent Auberry. "At one point while he was walking he thought maybe he could walk as far as the road and hitchhike home, and we are going to have that lecture about hitchhiking again."
His father also says he may have been living out an adventure from his favorite book, "Hatchet," about a boy who crashlands in the wilderness and has to learn how to survive on his own.
Though Michael lost his hat and glasses in the thick brush and has a few cuts and scratches, he's doing well at home. Still, it may be a while before his parents send him back to camp.
"Anybody who's a parent knows how Debby and I feel today, to have our son back," Auberry said. "It's a tremendous blessing."