MESA COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A small group of hikers marched down a newly opened canyon trail Friday only to discover smoke signals from a man who had been lost for four days and was out of food and water.
The group of hikers called 911 at 1:30 p.m. to report a smoke column and a unreachable person yelling from a half mile away, according to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.READ MORE: 'Blow All Your [Expletive] Heads Off': Denver's Harold Ortiz Imprisoned For Threats That Closed Government Office
A Centurylink helicopter carried a team of first responders to the area of Mee Canyon, about six miles southwest of Fruita on federal land. The copter crew immediately sighted the column of smoke and the lost hiker waving his arms.
Rescuers and medical personnel reached the man and found him exhausted and dehydrated, but uninjured.
The 31-year-old man said he, a 32-year-old friend, and their two dogs had left the Knowles Canyon Trailhead four days earlier. They became lost and the 32-year-old and the dogs fell into a canyon.
The 31-year-old had been trying to find his way out before stopping and using a lighter to set a small fire.
He told rescuers the pair was from out-of-state and had been hiking at national parks for several weeks. However, they set out lightly loaded for food and without a cell phone.
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Rescuers recovered the fallen hiker’s body Sunday. He had fallen 60-80 feet down a slickrock formation, according to the Mesa County Coroner’s Office.
The two dogs were also found. They suffered only minor injuries.
The surviving hiker was found a mile away from his friend’s body and just four miles from the Knowles Canyon Trailhead, according to the sheriff’s office. Rescuers, however, believe the surviving hike may have traveled up to 15 miles in his attempt to escape the canyons.
Rescue crews say the decision to light the fire may have saved his life.
The survivor also can thank the group of hikers using the Mee Canyon Trail on the first day it was open.
“Had the gate not been opened for day hikers,” MCSO stated in its press release, “the individual may not have been found.”
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Aside from the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices, the more than 30 search and rescue volunteers were joined by personnel from the Bureau of Land Management, Centurylink, Mesa County Animal Services, and veterinarians from Grand Valley Veterinary Emergency Center in the rescue and recovery operations.