Thursday, December 6, 2007

More on the Byron SAR

Cold, dazed, but alive

By Terry Karkos , Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

BYRON - A deer hunter who spent nearly three days lost in snowy woods near Tumbledown Mountain was in stable condition at a Lewiston hospital after being found by a snowmobiler late Wednesday afternoon.

Steven Wright, 53, of Woodford, Vt., was hauled out of the woods near Madrid. He was found about 15 miles away on the backside of nearby Jackson Mountain by Donald Eisenhaur.

Eisenhaur said he had gone out for a "joy ride" after being advised by his wife to keep an eye out for the missing Wright.

Warden Lt. Pat Dorian called what Wright endured an "incredible story of survival."

"This is probably one of the most remarkable stories I have heard in my life," Dorian said Wednesday night. He said Wright not only weathered freezing temperatures and a snowstorm, but also dealt with being snow-blind for a while.

At one point on Tuesday, tired, and with his clothes freezing on him after he was immersed earlier up to his neck, Wright climbed into a ditch and covered himself with spruce branches in an attempt to stay warm, Dorian said.

By Wednesday morning, his vision improved but "his neck was so stiff that he couldn't look down," Dorian said.

Word that Wright was found reached searchers only minutes after the Maine Warden Service called rescue crews in for the day about 3:30 p.m. to prepare for today's now-canceled search.

"Did you just hear that?" one warden incredulously asked a handful of others and state police troopers inside the Byron town office command post, referring to a radio call saying that Wright had been found alive.

The Vermont hunter, who serves on the select board in Woodford, had been missing since Monday, and searchers began looking for him early Tuesday morning by foot, snowmobiles, airplanes and helicopters..

At 3:52 p.m. Wednesday, the wardens and troopers ran outside to listen to a call relating that Eisenhaur had found Wright about 15 miles off Route 4.

"He was able to say his name. He was conscious and alert," said Warden Lt. Adam Gormely about 4 p.m. during a hastily called news conference outside the municipal building.

At 4:30 p.m., a LifeFlight helicopter flew over the command post on its way to bring Wright to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

More than 40 wardens, Maine Forest service rangers, three warden service dogs, and volunteers from the Maine Association for Search and Rescue took part in Wednesday's search. Lt. Pat Dorian and Gormely were readying plans for today's search when they learned the hunter had been found.

The Warden Service estimated the cost of the search at $20,000 as of Wednesday night. The service said Wright won't be billed for search expenses.

Wright was wearing extreme wet-weather camouflage pants and a jacket, upper-torso orange vest and orange-colored hat. He had lost a glove, and was wet and icy when found.

He had arrived in Byron on Sunday with hunting buddies Michael Harrington and Barry Bishop, both of Bennington, Vt.

On Monday morning, they left their rental cabin and drove about four miles east of Route 17 on No. 6 Road.

At 9 a.m., they saw a deer track, which Wright began following while his friends each went along the outskirts, spreading out to the left and right, according to Turcotte. The two men then got into stands - platforms attached to tree trunks - to wait for a deer.

Wright left his backpack with his survival gear in his truck.

An experienced outdoorsman who has hunted nationwide, he was armed with a muzzleloader and two to three rounds of ammunition.

When Wright later failed to return, his friends began searching for him. At 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, they sought help from wardens. Initially, three wardens and a supervisor began searching on snowmobiles and on foot within a one-mile radius of the hunters' truck.

"I think he's going to make it," Gormely said Wednesday night. "He was on his deathbed, and he doesn't let go of his rifle. That's a hard-core hunter."

"He hunts a lot," Neil Hoag, a fellow Select Board member in Woodford told the Bennington (Vt.) Banner. "He was out West a while ago. I know he typically hunts two or three states."

Woodford Town Clerk Ron Higgins said Wright suffered from some health problems over the summer that worried those who knew him.

"I was a little frightened because of the slight stroke that he had had, but he's a real strong and determined man," Higgins told the Banner.

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