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Man, 72, survives 18 days alone in forest on snake, lizards, algae

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A 72-year-old man is recuperating in a hospital after surviving 18 days alone in a Northern California forest by eating algae, a snake and other small animals he could kill.

Gene Penaflor’s ordeal began Sept. 24 when he and a hunting partner set off from their camp in the Mendocino National Forest and made their way down two separate ridges. The two had planned to hunt for a couple hours before meeting back up for lunch, Penaflor’s son, Jeremy, told the Ukiah Daily Journal.

Penaflor ended up hiking 2½ miles in what Mendocino County sheriff's Det. Andrew Porter described as "very steep, rocky and treacherous” terrain.

At some point, the San Francisco resident fell and lost consciousness at the bottom of a steep canyon. When he awoke, he was surrounded by fog and had a cut on his chin. Lacking the energy to hunt the deer he saw, Penaflor survived by eating squirrels, lizards, a snake, berries and algae, the Daily Journal reported.

Penaflor kept embers from his nighttime fire hot under leaves during the day while staying hydrated and conserving what food he could kill and cook.

Attempts to make himself known to helicopters by creating smoke signals failed, and a massive search effort that included scent-sniffing dogs couldn’t track his location.

"He knew at some point he was going to die, but he figured he'd last as long as he could," Porter told the Daily Journal.

On Saturday, a group of hunters who heard his calls for help carried him out of the forest on a stretcher fashioned out of branches and their coats.

Porter described Penaflor as “very upbeat” despite having to cling to life in the wilderness for more than two weeks. He was recuperating at the Ukiah Valley Medical Center.

Penaflor’s son, Jeremy, told the Ukiah paper that it was a keen knowledge of the outdoors that kept his father alive for so long.

"I knew my dad would do what he needed to do to survive, even if it meant eating squirrels or the occasional bug,” he said.

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jason.wells@latimes.com

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