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Man recalls eating squirrels to survive alone in California forest

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A day after he was carried out of the Mendocino National Forest -- having survived nearly three weeks on his own -- 72-year-old Gene Penaflor described how "it all went dead" after falling down a canyon.

He had separated from his deer hunting partner deep in the forest on Sept. 24 when he accidently stepped off the edge and fell "straight down" -- so straight, that he landed upright on his feet.

"I thought my knee cap was broken," Penaflor told KTVU-TV on Sunday.

After that, "it all went dead. I passed out, I don't know how long," he said.

When Penaflor awoke at the bottom of a steep canyon, he was surrounded by fog. 

Too weakened to hunt deer, Penaflor ate algae, a snake, berries and squirrels to survive, the Ukiah Daily Journal reported.

With just a few trash bags, a Bic lighter and seven bullets, the San Francisco resident tapped his knowledge of the outdoors to survive as long as possible. He kept embers from his nighttime fire hot under leaves during the day while staying hydrated and conserving what food he could kill and cook.

"I knew my dad would do what he needed to do to survive, even if it meant eating squirrels or the occasional bug,” Penaflor’s son, Jeremy, told the Ukiah paper.

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 Penaflor’s location. 

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.

As he left the hospital a day later, a small crowd of friends and family celebrated outside.

As Penaflor spoke to KTVU outside, he was at times emotional when he recalled his story of survival.

"Three squirrels are dead because of me," he said.

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jason.wells@latimes.com

Twitter: @jasonbretwells / Facebook / Google+

 

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