Aaron Vaughn, KSTU, Reporting
GARFIELD COUNTY, Utah — An amazing story of survival is coming out of Garfield County.
A 28-year-old autistic man was found Thursday afternoon after he went missing three weeks ago in the remote Escalante Desert.
William Martin LaFever from Colorado Springs was found extremely emaciated but alive.
LaFever was last heard from when he called his father on the 6th or 7th of June. William told his father he was in Boulder, Utah hiking with his dog. He also told his dad he was out of money and someone had stolen some of his hiking gear.
John LeFever told his son to get a ride to Page, Arizona where he would wire him some money. His father didn’t hear from William again. He didn’t realize William’s plan was to hike down the Escalante River to Lake Powell and try to find a boat ride to Page.
Investigators are still putting the pieces together, but it appears William got a car ride to where the Escalante River crosses Highway 12 and began hiking down the river with his dog.
As the days went on he ran out of food and his dog left him. He told his rescuers he survived eating a few frogs and some roots.
Monday William’s sister Lisa called the Garfield County Sheriff reporting her brother was missing and her family hadn’t heard from him in weeks.
Sheriff’s deputies enlisted the help of a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter to begin searching along the Escalante River Thursday.
Deputy Ray Gardner went on the search but said he was not expecting a good outcome.
“We had no idea if William had stayed along the river, or decided to leave, or got a ride with someone, or was lost somewhere other than along the river. We flew along it without any expectation of finding anything at all. The conditions would have to be just right too; unless he was out in the open there was no way we would be able to find him,” said Gardner.
A few miles before Lake Powell the searchers spotted a man sitting in the Escalante River, weakly waving his arms.
Gardner and the UHP helicopter landed near the man.
“We walked up to him and were absolutely dumbfounded to learn that it was William, and that he was alive. You’ve seen pictures of starving people from other countries; in all my career I have never seen someone so emaciated. I could not believe that he was alive, and feel certain that in another 24 hours he would not have been alive,” Gardner said.
Gardner said William was so weak that he could not stand or walk.
William was flown to Garfield Memorial Hospital where he’s likely to stay at several days while recovering.
Rescuers estimate William hiked at least 40 miles down the Escalante River.