An Air Force man who allegedly went AWOL got trapped in a snowdrift for 16 days, surviving on M&Ms and scrawling a farewell note to his parents before snowmobilers came upon him in his car.
When he gets out of the hospital in the next few days, he will be returned to his base in South Dakota to face desertion charges, authorities said.
Thomas Wade Truett, 29, was in fair condition today, recovering from hypothermia.
The snowmobilers who found Truett said he wore no coat or sweater, only a T-shirt. He had lost 20 pounds, surviving on only orange juice, water and a package of almond M&Ms, police said.
“He’s got some healing that he needs to do,” sheriff’s Cpl. Neil Mackey said. “What he went through, it’s enough to make a sane man crazy.”
Truett, an airman first class who enlisted in early summer, had recently succumbed to personal problems, Mackey said. He fled his job as a fuel manager at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D., on Dec. 3 and drove to Oregon, the sheriff’s office said.
Four days after he set out, Truett’s sports car became stuck in blustery weather on a snowy, rural road in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, Mackey said. He survived four days in the woods, using a cigarette lighter to build small fires.
A Claw Tapping on the Glass
After depleting the lighter fuel, Truett tried hiking out of the forest but was too weak. He retreated to the car, consumed his meager rations and wrote a note to his parents in Florida, dated Dec. 13.
On Friday, after 11 days in the car, Truett heard snowmobiles passing and threw his backpack, a notebook and some clothing out the window to let people know he was there, Mackey said. He wasn’t found for another day, when a group of snowmobilers came by and uncovered the black fabric of the backpack.
Chuck Bloom tossed the frozen bag aside into a drift, knocking some snow away and revealing the glint of a car window.
“All of a sudden this little claw hand comes up and taps twice,” said his wife, June Bloom. “It just scared us to death. We thought, ‘Oh my God, there’s somebody in there.’”
Chuck Bloom went for help while his wife and their companions started shoveling through the 5 feet of snow. She reached through a window, sliding socks over Truett’s hands and feeding him two containers of orange juice.
“He was so thin and gray in the face,” June Bloom said.