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San Francisco Man Found After 18 Days in Forest

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A 72-year-old man from the Bay Area, who was lost in the wilderness for 19 days, is alive and recovering Sunday night. He vanished from a remote area in the Mendocino National Forest during the time he was missing. His family never gave up hope. NBC Bay Area's Kimberly Tere has the story.

    A San Francisco man who was feared dead after going missing in Mendocino National Forest for nearly three weeks survived alone in the wilderness on a diet of squirrels, lizards, frogs and snakes, his family said.

    Gene Penaflor, 72, was found alive by a group of hunters Saturday morning at the bottom of a canyon about three miles from where he first disappeared while hunting.

    "Basically, he ate whatever he needed to survive," his son, Jeremey Penaflor, 31, said of the 18-day disappearance.

    The elderly hunter was reported missing on Sept. 24 when he didn't show up for a planned meeting with his hunting partner for lunch on the first day of a hunt.

    Penaflor, who had split up from his partner, was knocked unconscious after hitting his head in a fall. When he woke up he was disoriented and surrounded by a thick bank of fog. After some time spent walking around the area, Penaflor was unable to determine which direction to travel and stopped moving.

    Once discovered by the group of hunters, he was taken to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for medical treatment then released in good health to his family. Penaflor watched the 49ers game on Sunday in his Bernal Heights home in San Francisco.

    Penaflor's son Jeremy got a call Saturday from a search and rescue leader while he was waiting for a BART train at the Lake Merritt station in Oakland.

    "I asked him 'What's going on?'" Jeremy Penaflor said. "Then he told me, 'Hunters found your dad.' I was just in shock. I was shaking."

    There were times, the younger Penaflor said, that he feared that call would never come, but he never gave up hope.

    "He knew that terrain like the back of his hand," Jeremy said. "He's been hunting for 25 to 30 years. He reads survival magazines. I wouldn't say I lost hope. It was dwindling, he's 72 years old, but I knew knowing what he knew not to give up."

    His father used all his survival skills to stay alive. Aside from eating squirrels and lizards, the elder Penaflor lit fires to keep warm and, on days it snowed or rained, took shelter under a log.

    Penaflor told his family he remained in one spot due to a nearby water source. Temperatures fluctuated between 25 and 70 degrees during the nearly three weeks Penaflor spent alone.

    The family is now even making jokes about their missing -- and now found -- dad.

    "He's fine," he said. "It's like he went on vacation and came back with a beard."