Hunter survives frigid night

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2006

DRUM HILL – Just about every emergency response volunteer in Gates County got an early Christmas gift last week.

After a 12-hour search of a wooded, wet poquosin in the Drum Hill community, rescuers found a hunter who had endured a long cold night lost in the woods.

Sheriff Edward E. Webb said the hunter, 52-year old David Cherry from Virginia Beach was cold and hungry, but still wanted to get his deer out of the woods.

&uot;I told him not to worry about that deer right now because we needed to get him to food and warmth,&uot; said the sheriff. &uot;It was quite an eventful night, but we were all so filled with joy when we found him out there.&uot;

In fact, Sheriff Webb’s eyes grew moist as he talked about the rescue. He said every member of the rescue team including Gates County Volunteer Rescue Squad Captain Billy Winn, State Trooper Josh Noble, Sgt. Johnnie Wiggins, Deputy Al Parker, Game Warden George Owen, Deputy Glynda Parker, EMT-I Mike Tinkham, Johnny Blanchard, Jack Boyce, Assistant Chief Colin Ryan, George Ryan, Leeann Riddick, Sue Rountree, Tim Jordan, Clarence Winn, Stormy Butts and Kevin Eure were all celebrating the rescue of the hunter.

&uot;We were also called out Dec. 26 to search for the Alzheimer’s patient who was lost in Elizabeth City,&uot; said Capt. Winn. &uot;Rescuers involved in that search included Anita Winn, Ronnie Powell, Nathan Eure along with the Drum Hill search group. We were all extremely relived to find him and be able to pick him up especially since we’d all just completed a search and rescue class at Merchant’s Millpond back in November.&uot;

In the Drum Hill incident, the hunter came to Gates County to visit with friends in the 500 block of Drum Hill Road and to hunt the wooded areas along the road. Although he was familiar with the property owned by farmer Mack Jackson, he managed to get turned around so that he couldn’t find his way back to the roadway.

The hunter had left the house to hunt early that morning and when he failed to return at dusk, his wife became concerned. She gave her husband time to show up and becoming even more concerned, she called the sheriff’s office for help.

&uot;We responded to the area and began our search of the area by hollerin’ for him,&uot; said Sheriff Webb. &uot;We contacted the rescue squad and they came out to assist us in the search. The members of the Search and Rescue Team were contacted and we set up a command post in a field just off Drum Hill Road.&uot;

At this point, Sgt. Wiggins and Officer Kal, a dog in the sheriff’s K-9 Unit, and Wildlife Officer Owen and his Labrador Retriever search dog, Lucy, all joined in the search.

Cold night air and frozen ground prevented the K-9 team from finding any track for the missing man.

At that point, Sheriff Webb contacted the NC Highway Patrol who in turn contacted a NCHP helicopter pilot in Lenoir County. The pilot was immediately on his way to Gates County.

In the meantime, Sheriff Webb and the rescue team found Cherry’s backpack in a cutover area of the woods.

&uot;The cutover was about 100 by 150-yards and when we found the backpack it had some shells, batteries, some snacks and sodas in it so we were fairly sure it was his,&uot; said the sheriff. &uot;We found out later that Mr. Cherry left his backpack when he shot a deer so that he could track the animal. When darkness overtook him, he was unable to find his way out so instead of walking around in circles he decided to sit it out in one place until morning so he could see where he was going.&uot;

Once the helicopter was at the scene, it didn’t take long for him to spot the flashlight Cherry was shining into the sky.

At the same time the chopper was flying the area, Rescue Squad Chief Wynn and his team and many deputies as well as the rest of the rescuers were walking the field in a grid pattern.

&uot;By this time, I was talking on three radios to maintain communication with the helicopter pilot, the rescue squad and the state troopers,&uot; said Sheriff Webb. &uot;I contacted Capt. Winn on the radio and told him to tell the search team to turn off their flashlights so the pilot might see a light from the hunter.&uot;

At that point, the pilot radioed Sheriff Webb, asking if he had a search team in a particular part of the woods. When the sheriff heard that question, he knew they had their man.

&uot;The pilot said the hunter was flashing a light up at him,&uot; said the sheriff. &uot;Mr. Cherry was about 1,000 yards from where we had been searching. When we found him, he was thirsty and cold but he was in good spirits. The helicopter pilot led us out of the woods with his searchlight shining down on the ground to show us the way.&uot;

Sheriff Webb said Cherry had been in the woods for almost 12 hours and he wasn’t dressed warmly enough for the night temperature.

&uot;When he went out, it was warm and he’d dressed lightly for the day not knowing that he’d spend the night out there,&uot; said the sheriff. &uot;Also, we were concerned because he’d fallen a couple weeks ago while hunting and he had a past medical history of heart trouble.&uot;

Sheriff Webb said Cherry was just as glad to see his rescuers as they were to see him.

The sheriff added that he is extremely proud of the entire Rescue Team.

&uot;We’ve trained for this type of action and I am proud that all our searchers performed so flawlessly,&uot; said the sheriff. &uot;Capt. Winn and I will be sitting down to go over the action and see if there is anything we could do better. He agrees with me that the coordination between the Highway Patrol, the Rescue Squad and the sheriff’s office was great. Our EMS Coordinator, Wendy Noble, got up in the middle of the night to come to the office and along with Communications Operator Michelle Kehl helped us maintain contact.&uot;

Sheriff Webb also commended Highway Patrol Line Sgt. Todd Lane and First Sgt. R.T.


&uot;I get choked up when I think about all the people who came to rescue this gentleman,&uot; said the sheriff. &uot;It was just such a great effort and I am so proud of every one of them.&uot;