A 28-year-old autistic man from Colorado was found emaciated but alive on Thursday after living off mainly frogs and roots while wandering for at least three weeks in the remote Escalante Desert of southern Utah, authorities said.
William Martin LaFever of Colorado Springs, Colo., told rescuers that in addition to the bits of food he scavenged, he drank water from the Escalante River while attempting to walk from Boulder, Utah, to Page, Ariz., a distance of approximately 90 miles or more by the route he appeared to be taking.
The Garfield County Sheriff’s Department estimated he had traveled about 40 miles before he was found. "It is some of the most rugged, unforgiving terrain you will find anywhere on Earth, jagged cliffs, stone ledges, sandstone, sagebrush, juniper," sheriff’s spokeswoman Becki Bronson said in a telephone interview.
"Where William was hiking, there just isn’t anyone out there," she said. "There are no people. There are no towns." The sheriff’s department said it was remarkable that searchers aboard a helicopter were able to find LaFever at all, much less alive.
Deputy Ray Gardner, who had recently completed training in search and rescue operations for people with autism and was aboard the helicopter, said LaFever would not have survived another 24 hours.
LaFever was trying to get to Page because his father, John LaFever of Colorado Springs, told him he would wire money to him in there, the sheriff’s department said in a written release.
William LaFever had called his father on June 6 or 7 to say he was hiking in the Boulder area with his dog, and that someone had stolen some of his hiking gear and he had run out of money. John LaFever told his son to catch a ride to Page to collect the money.
Unbeknownst to his father, William LaFever apparently decided to hike down the Escalante River and then hitch a boat ride along Lake Powell to Page, rather than try to catch a ride, the sheriff’s department said.
LaFever set out along the river but ran out of food. His dog left him, and LaFever began abandoning his gear until all he had was the clothing and shoes he was wearing when he was found, the sheriff’s department said.
The dog hasn’t been seen since. Authorities do not know why the dog ran off, Bronson said.