BAXTER STATE PARK — First seen holding aloft a walking stick crowned with a sock, battered from hiking 7 or 8 miles, 78-year-old lost hiker John Lyon had a simple explanation for his survival.
“I just wasn’t ready to die,” Lyon said, according to Maine Forest Ranger Ben Goodwin.
A Maine Forest Service helicopter crew’s rescue of the lost hiker gave a happy ending to Lyon’s 72-hour ordeal. The crew pulled Lyon from a rock slide near Annis Brook near Fort Mountain at about 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Before his rescue, the Virginian was last seen on Marston Trail near Mount Coe at around 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Lyon traveled 7 or 8 miles through rugged backwoods to get to the rock slide, said Goodwin, a crew chief aboard the helicopter.
“This is rough country. It is brutal for those guys [younger searchers] and he wasn’t on a trail or anything, so he was bushwhacking,” Goodwin said Sunday. “For someone of that age, it’s unbelievable that he has been out there for three or four days.”
About 50 park rangers, Maine Warden Service, Civil Air Patrol and volunteer search and rescue workers had been looking for Lyon on Sunday, Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell said. Eighty searchers participated Saturday.
Things hadn’t looked promising in the hours leading to Lyon’s discovery. No clues — articles of clothing, equipment or signs in the terrain — to Lyon’s whereabouts had been found, Bissell said.
The helicopter crew members had just finished radioing a Baxter State Park ranger who had been searching Annis below them when Goodwin scanned the area near the northeast side of Fort Mountain.
“I saw him down along the stream. He had a stick and sock on the end of it,” Goodwin recalled. “I said, ‘Boy, that looks like him right there.’ We did a couple loops around and then [crew chief Mike McGary] said, ‘Oh, that’s him.’”
Pilot Chris Blackie landed Goodwin and McGary on terrain bracketing Lyon’s location. The crew chiefs walked Lyon to safe a landing spot and Blackie collected them.
Lyon probably went around two mountains and over Fort Mountain before he was found — a testament to the man’s skill and strength as an outdoorsman, Blackie said.
“It was unbelievable. It was such rough country, with a lot of cliffs and boulders,” Goodwin said. “Being that far from where they last saw him was pretty amazing.”
Park officials had said that Lyon was reported to be an experienced outdoorsman who has hiked extensively, including a nonstop journey of the entire length of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail.
Lyon might have mistakenly come off the OJI-Coe-Marston Trail loop onto a bushwacked trail that takes hikers to an airplane crash site, and “got turned around from there,” Goodwin said.
“He did say he fell and hit his chest. He had a lot of scrapes and marks where he was thrashing through the brush and stuff. He was beat up pretty good,” Goodwin added. “Being this many days into the search, you wouldn’t think he was going to make it.”
Tired, dehydrated and perhaps disoriented at first, Lyon told the crew he had eaten a granola bar a day and slept only a few hours a night. They warmed him with blankets and gave him food and drink.
“Then he kind of chuckled about it and said that he got four or five hours of sleep last night and he slept in this morning. We all got a pretty good laugh at that,” Goodwin said. “He was very tired but still had a sense of humor, and he was very grateful for all the agencies that came together to find him.”
Lyon’s most immediate concern was ensuring that his family was notified of his rescue. Crew members made sure his family got the word, Goodwin said.
Lyons was taken to Millinocket Regional Hospital, where he was in good spirits and appeared to be in good condition, park officials said Sunday night.
“We are very, very pleased that we found him in the manner we found him,” Blackie said. “You get really discouraged when you have one that doesn’t go very well.”