SANTIAGO (AFP) – A 58-year-old Uruguayan man who vanished in the freezing Andes for four months turned from valiant survivor to crime suspect Monday after authorities revealed he was fleeing pedophilia charges.
Raul Gomez Cincunegui, dehydrated and weighing just over 40 kilos (88 pounds), was found by chance on Sunday when helicopters flying overhead saw him sitting next to a shelter at an altitude of 4,500 meters (nearly 15,000 feet) in Argentina's San Juan province.
Gomez survived below freezing temperatures in the snow-covered mountains by eating sugar and raisins left behind by mountain climbers in the Ingeniero Sardina shelter, according to rescuers.
He was flown to a hospital in the capital of San Juan, where his wife and daughter were able to see him after fearing he was dead.
"It's a miracle. Thank God he's alive. Now the family is happy. I always knew he was alive," his mother, Irma Cincunegui, told Uruguay's La Republica newspaper.
Rodrigo Belert, spokesman of the Rawson Hospital, told AFP that Gomez Cincunegui was "evolving well, lucid and in good spirits" while being treated in the intensive care unit.
He lost 20 kilos but did not suffer any broken bones or frostbite from the extreme cold, he said.
But by Monday the survivor faced justice again as Chilean authorities requested his extradition after announcing that he is wanted in connection with the sexual abuse of an eight-year-old boy in Santiago.
Prosecutors first accused him on April 22, barring him from going near the alleged victim or leaving Chile. An arrest warrant was issued on July 17 after he missed a court hearing.
"It is believed that he left Chile through an unauthorized crossing since border police were informed of his ban from leaving the country," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
Gomez Cincunegui had left Uruguay by motorcycle in April on his way to a gathering of bikers in the western Argentine city of Mendoza. He then went to visit relatives in the Chilean capital, where the alleged crime occurred, prosecutors said.
Facing charges, he traveled to the town of Petorca, 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Santiago, and left Chile on foot. After walking for 200 kilometers, he got lost in the midst of the Andean winter, according to relatives.
He lost contact with his family when the mobile phone connection went dead on a mountain pass between Argentina and Chile known as Paso de los Patos (Pass of the Ducks). Relatives subsequently reported him missing on May 11.
"He didn't think he would walk in the snow," his mother said. "When he climbed the mountain, there was no snow."