By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Pine County Sheriff’s Office says a 61-year-old grouse hunter has been found safe Thursday after going missing in a heavily wooded forest earlier in the week.

According to the sheriff’s office, a report was received Tuesday at 6:44 a.m. of a hunter lost in the Nemadji Forest. The caller was the hunter and, due to poor cellphone connectivity, information was limited.

More than 50 people scoured the more than 90,000 acres of forest north of Kingsdale along the Wisconsin border, but the area’s thick cover and soggy terrain made things extremely difficult — ATVs got stuck and storms kept planes grounded.

A Pine County officer was able to communicate with the hunter via text message until cellphone reception was lost again. Authorities say the man’s phone battery lost power Tuesday evening.

“We knew that he was there, we knew that we had to have flown over him at one point in time and he did say that he heard us but there’s just no way for him to signal us,” Chief Warrant Officer Jim Englin, Minnesota State Patrol helicopter pilot, said.

Authorities say Kniefel had food and water with him, rationed his food and knew help was looking for him. When his rations ran out, he had to resort to drinking bog water in the forest.

On Wednesday morning, the sheriff’s office said he was found safe. The Minnesota State Patrol says the Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team (MART) helped rescue the man.

After searching with no luck for two days, a Minnesota State Patrol plane’s thermal camera located the man by his campfire at about 11 p.m. Wednesday. The hunter was on an island south of the Net Lake Campground area and west of Beldon Road. Despite finding him, a ground or air rescue wasn’t possible because of the darkness and terrain.

“He did say that that absolutely was the low point for him. When the aircraft left he knew that we knew where he was at, but it took everything in his body to not walk away at first daylight,” said Englin.

The hunter, identified as Robert Kniefel of Lakeville, Minnesota, was airlifted by a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter just after 8 a.m. Wednesday. He was reunited with his family after medical personnel checked him.

Kniefel had a lighter on him which helped build the fire that he not only used to stay warm but dry his clothes after two rainy nights.

But for his next hunting trip, troopers say he told them he plans to bring a GPS tracker with him.


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