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72-Year-Old SF Man Survives On Squirrels During 19-Day Ordeal In Mendocino Forest

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Gene Penaflor

72-year-old Gene Penaflor survived 18 days alone in the Yuki Wilderness in Mendocino National Forest. (Photo by Jeremy Penaflor / Instagram)

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UKIAH (CBS SF) — A San Francisco man was rescued this weekend after spending three weeks lost in the Mendocino National Forest, where he survived below-freezing temperatures and subsisted on a diet of squirrels and other wild animals.

Gene Penaflor, a 72-year-old Bernal Heights resident, went hunting with a friend but got separated and was reported missing on Sept. 24, Mendocino County sheriff’s officials and family members said.

Search-and-rescue teams from several counties and state agencies scoured the area over the next several days but there was no sign of Penaflor, and the search had to be suspended because of a brewing storm, according to the sheriff’s office.

Penaflor’s family took to the Internet to aid in the search, creating a website focused on his disappearance, www.genepenaflor.com.

Then, about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, hunters in the forest reported hearing someone calling for help from the bottom of a canyon, sheriff’s officials said.

It took several hours for rescue crews to get to the hunters, who had gone down the canyon to reach Penaflor. They rendered aid to him and created a makeshift stretcher out of their coats and poles cut from wood in the area, sheriff’s officials said.

Penaflor was eventually airlifted out of the forest by helicopter, 19 days after being reported missing.

According to the sheriff’s office, he had apparently fallen and been knocked unconscious on the day of the hunting trip.

During his time in the wilderness, Penaflor was able to build a fire and kill and eat squirrels to survive as he dealt with snow and temperatures as low as 25 degrees, according to the sheriff’s office.

The family posted a picture on their website of Penaflor in the hospital after his rescue.

“We are very thankful for all of your support and prayers,” family members wrote on the site. “This is a miracle.”

They said Penaflor, a longtime hunter, relied on his “intelligence, strength, and … using his resources wisely deep in the woods” to survive.

The sheriff’s office thanked the hunters who assisted in the rescue.

“Their quick thinking to notify rescue teams and seek assistance while also rendering aid to Gene was critical to his being rescued and returned alive to his family,” sheriff’s officials said in a statement.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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