WAIMEA, Hawaii – A hiker lost for five days in a lava field near a volcano (search) says he survived by drinking water he squeezed from moss in a mostly barren landscape.
Gilbert Dewey Gaedcke III, 41, was rescued Friday afternoon after a teenager on a helicopter tour spotted him stumbling across the rocky lava, trying to attract attention with a mirror from his camera.
Gaedcke had been missing since Sunday night, when he decided to take a hike across desolate lava fields near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (search) to get a closer look at an active volcano.
The experienced hiker from Austin, Texas, said he saw no water, but there were pockets of jungle-like vegetation sprinkled throughout the old lava flow.
Gaedcke said he crawled beneath the vines and lick moisture off leaves. Then he found moss growing on trees, and was able to squeeze enough water from it to drink.
"It was muddy, green, mossy water, but it worked," he said Saturday. "If I hadn't found that I'd be dead right now," he said.
Gaedcke said tour helicopters had flown overhead all week, but he was unable to attract attention because clouds blocked the sun.
Then, late Friday afternoon, another one flew over. Aboard was 15-year-old Peter Frank, who spotted the odd glint in the late afternoon sunlight.
"It was the only thing like that out there," said Frank, of Pasadena, Calif. "As we got closer we realized it was a man."
Gaedcke, dehydrated, but otherwise OK after surviving five days in the heat, was lost amid acres of blackened volcanic rock.
"I wound up on some of the most vicious terrain I've ever seen," he said as he rested at a friend's home before flying home. "It's all gray rock — terrible stuff — then vegetation like an oasis, then more gray rock."
Gaedcke's rented car had been found days earlier at the end of a road near an old lava flow bordering the east side of the 333,000-acre national park. Police had few leads to follow.
Fire crews and rangers from the park searched for days on foot and on horseback. Helicopters buzzed the area, but there was no sign of Gaedcke.
Then, Frank spotted what looked like a toy pinwheel glinting in the sunlight. His mother, Diann Kim, said her son asked Blue Hawaiian Helicopters pilot Cliff Muzzi to get a closer look.
"As we got closer you could see the man flashing a mirror and waving a dark orange fabric," she said. "As he was coming down the path, clearly he couldn't move that well."
Kim's daughter, Hannah, and a friend wrapped bottles of water in airsickness bags to drop to the distressed hiker. "It was so amazing," Kim said. "To see a person out there was like seeing a person on the face of the moon.
After returning his passengers to Hilo International Airport, Muzzi headed back to retrieve Gaedcke, then whisked him back to the airport about 17 miles to the northeast. Medical crews were waiting to take him to Hilo Medical Center.
Gaedcke said he saw the bright glow of the lava and then turned to go back to his car, but missed it as he walked in the dark. He hiked inland, expecting to intersect with the road, but by morning, he was lost.
"My feet feel like I had a 30-day adventure," he said. "And if it weren't for my feet, I'd be dancing a jig right now."