SALT LAKE CITY – Malachi Bradley was searching for wild mushrooms in eastern Utah when he realized he had wandered too far from the mountain lake where he was hiking with his father and siblings.
The 10-year-old boy tried looking for a road to flag down a driver, but the area about 200 miles east of Salt Lake City was too remote. He remembered the survival skills his father taught him and eventually hunkered down between rocks still warm from the sun to shield himself from the cold mountain night.
"It was weird not having anybody with me, but I just kept going. I knew I had to make it back, or my family would be really sad," Malachi said Tuesday. Over the nearly 30 hours he was missing in the rugged backcountry, he found river water to drink and even tried unsuccessfully to catch a fish with a spear made from a stick.
Meanwhile, dozens of search and rescue workers were combing the area on horses and ATVs, as well as in the air, but they couldn't spot Malachi in the wooded terrain.
Back at the campground in Uinta Mountains, his mother, Molly Chrisman, was on edge. She had heard about a 5-year-old Arizona boy who wandered away from a campsite chasing grasshoppers earlier this month and died of exposure.
"I felt like the forest was so huge," she said. "They were showing pictures on a map of how many people they had on the ground, and it felt like it was a tiny amount compared to the vast place that was the forest."
As night fell and temperatures dipped into the 30s, Malachi wrapped his T-shirt around his legs, huddled in his jacket and shielded himself from the weather between the rocks. The residual warmth helped him get through the night, though it also threw off infrared heat detectors used by the search teams as it got dark, police said.
Back at Paul Lake, his father, Danny Bradley, and a friend who had joined them for the camping were keeping a fire burning, hoping the boy might wander back on his own. As the hours wore on, Bradley imagined his son alone in the woods and was terrified that he might be hurt.
"I was just hoping he was able to stay warm enough," the father said.
The next day, Malachi heard a police helicopter flying overhead. He knew the searchers aboard the craft couldn't see him through the trees, so he started walking again until he found a clearing.
He stayed there, briefly falling asleep, until a search plane spotted him from the air and a helicopter landed to pick him up Monday.
When she saw it land, his mother was overwhelmed with relief. "He's healthy and he's coming up and this is going to be all over and it's not a tragedy," Chrisman said, describing her reaction to the news. Medical staff on scene declared him cold and hungry but otherwise fine.
Malachi was found about 5 miles southeast of where he went missing, Uintah County Sheriff Vance Norton said. It appeared that he wandered down a ravine and over a hill before he found the clearing.
Though the night was cold, Malachi was lucky that temperatures didn't drop further and no sudden storms developed in the high-elevation area, Norton said.
Malachi said he'll go camping again, but next time he'll stay close to other people.
"I'll learn from my mistakes," he said.