McGRADY, N.C. (AP) – Michael Auberry could hear the adults calling his name and see the helicopters searching for him.

After four days alone in the rugged North Carolina wilderness, though, the 12-year-old Boy Scout was wary Tuesday when crews following a trained dog approached him along a stream.

“They called his name. He didn’t respond … Once they said, ‘We’re here to rescue you,’ the first thing he said is he wanted a helicopter ride out of there,” said Blue Ridge Parkway ranger David Bauer.

The dog, named Gandalf, picked up the boy’s scent just two hours after he joined more than 100 people in the search, which lasted over three frigid nights.

The dog caught the scent less than a mile from the campsite where Michael had wandered away from his troop Saturday. Searchers had found his mess kit within a mile of the campsite a few hours after he disappeared but had seen no sign of him since.

On a steep trail, the black 2-year-old Shiloh shepherd “popped his head three times,” said handler Misha Marshall – and there was Michael. Searchers spotted him before he saw them.

“He was a little dazed,” said Marshall. “You are totally overwhelmed. You at first don’t believe he’s the person you’re looking for.”

Michael’s disappearance had touched off an intensive search involving bloodhounds, heat-seeking helicopters and dozens of volunteers on foot. The boy’s father speculated Tuesday his son was upset that some friends hadn’t been able to come on the weekend camping trip and wanted to hitchhike home.

“He’s very tired. He’s very dehydrated. But he came through this in unbelievable fashion,” said Kent Auberry.

A few hours after an emotional reunion, Kent Auberry said he still didn’t know much about his son’s ordeal, mostly because he decided not to ask too many questions.

“What he tells us is he was on the move,” Auberry said. “He slept in tree branches. He curled up under rocks.”

Michael had worn two jackets to stay warm, one of them fleece.

, and was believed to have a mess kit and potato chips with him when he disappeared.

He told the rescue team he had been drinking water from streams, and lost his hat and glasses in the woods.

Hours earlier, the boy’s father had talked about one of Michael’s favorite books when he was younger, a story titled “Hatchet” about a boy whose plane crashes in the wilderness, and how the boy survives on his own.

“I think he’s got some of that book in his mind,” said Kent Auberry, whose son had camped overnight several times. “They do a great job in the Scouts of educating the kids of what to beware of and tips. I’m hopeful that Michael has taken those to heart.”

Aside from a few cuts and scratches, Michael was in good health and could walk and talk. Because he had been without food and water, he was carried on a stretcher to a nearby road and then taken to see his parents. “A lot of tears, a lot of hugs,” said Tina White, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

Searchers gave the boy granola bars, crackers and water.

Michael went by ambulance to a medical center, where he ate chicken fingers and asked for cookies. On the way there, he received fluids by IV to help him rehydrate and told his father he wanted to rest, said ambulance driver Bud Lane.

“The whole family has got to get some sleep,” Kent Auberry said. “Tomorrow will take care of itself.”

AP-ES-03-20-07 2024EDT

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