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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hiker survived by wringing water from moss

Associated Press

Gilbert Gaedcke ended up with numerous cuts on his hands and feet during his five day ordeal lost in lava fields around Kilauea.

tim wright | Associated Press


WAIMEA, Hawai'i — A Texas man who spent five days lost in a lava field on the bottom slope of Kilauea volcano said yesterday that he survived by squeezing water from moss he found on trees sprinkled across an otherwise barren landscape.

Gilbert Dewey Gaedcke was rescued Friday afternoon after a helicopter spotted him stumbling across the rocky lava, trying to attract attention with a mirror from his camera.

He had been missing since July 17 when he set out to get a closer look at the volcano.

The 41-year-old experienced hiker from Austin, Texas, said he saw no water anywhere, but there were pockets of vegetation sprinkled throughout the area. "It was muddy, green, mossy water, but it worked," he said. "If I hadn't found that I'd be dead right now."

Gaedcke said tour helicopters had flown overhead all week, but he was unable to attract attention because of cloud cover.

Then late Friday afternoon, the last one flew over. Aboard was 15-year-old Peter Frank, who spotted the odd glint.

"I wound up on some of the most vicious terrain I've ever seen," Gaedcke said yesterday before flying home to Texas last night. "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 on the east side of Volcanoes National Park. Fire crews and park rangers searched for days. Helicopters buzzed the area, but there was no sign of Gaedcke. Until Frank spotted what he thought was a toy pinwheel glinting in the sunlight.

"As we got closer you could see the man flashing a mirror and waving a dark orange fabric," Frank's mother, Diann Kim, said. "As he was coming down the path, clearly he couldn't move that well.

"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 the Hilo airport, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters pilot Cliff Muzzio headed back for Gaedcke.

Gaedcke said he had missed his car walking back in the dark. He hiked inland, expecting to intersect with the road, but by morning, he was lost.

His feet and hands were cut up from stumbling on the sharp lava rock, and he estimates he walked about 10 miles during the five days, spending most of that time searching for water.

Gaedcke stayed at Hilo Medical center for three hours Friday, and left with his sister, Tracy Smith, of Houston, who had flown in and made appeals on TV in the search for her brother, a computer consultant in Austin.

Gaedcke, who has two young daughters at home, said he had a lot of reasons to survive.

"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."