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From survivor to suspect: Man rescued in Andes is wanted in sex abuse case

By Rafael Romo and Jose Manuel Rodriguez, CNN
updated 6:28 PM EDT, Tue September 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In Argentina, authorities called a man's survival in the Andes a miracle
  • Now Chilean prosecutors say he's a wanted suspect accused of sexual abuse
  • The man lived for four months in the Andes, eating rats and grass to survive
  • His family denies the allegations and says he's been missing for months

(CNN) -- He survived for nearly four months in the mountains, braving freezing temperatures and eating rats and grass to survive.

After an Argentine military helicopter sent to measure snow in the Andes lifted him to safety on Sunday, authorities called Raul Gomez Cincunegui's survival "a miracle."

They marveled at how the malnourished man made it so long without proper food or heating, and wondered why he was living in a herder's shelter at 4,500 meters (14,763 feet).

It turns out Gomez, an Uruguayan national, may have had good reason to be hiding.

Missing for months, rescued in mountains

A day after his dramatic rescue from the remote area of Argentina's San Juan Province near the country's border with Chile, authorities revealed there was more to the man's story.

According to Chilean prosecutors, Gomez, 58, is a wanted suspect in their country in a case allegedly involving the sexual abuse of a minor. Authorities said they opened an investigation in April after the mother of an 8-year-old boy accused the Uruguayan man of sexually abusing her son. A local judge issued an arrest warrant and a restraining order that month, prohibiting Gomez from having any contact with the alleged victim, prosecutors said.

Just weeks after the investigation started, Gomez disappeared.

Chilean authorities issued a national arrest warrant July 17 after he missed several court dates.

Local media reported that Gomez left the country riding a motorcycle and kept walking through the Andes once it broke down.

Gomez is in police custody while he undergoes treatment at an Argentine hospital, Argentina's state-run Telam news agency reported.

Chilean prosecutors said they have filed an extradition request to bring him back to their country.

The man's wife and daughters, who traveled to Argentina to reunite with him, deny the allegations and say it's all a misunderstanding.

"It was all started by an aunt we didn't get along with, but that issue has been solved," daughter Paula Gomez told Telam. "As you can see, there's no problem here. If there were, he would be surrounded by police officers, but he's not because the case was dismissed."

Another sexual abuse case against him in Uruguay also turned out not to be true, she said.

"It's a case that was dismissed a long time ago," Gomez told Telam. "He was being sought as a missing person and that's it."

A doctor who is treating Gomez told CNN affiliate Canal 13 that he's in remarkably good condition.

"When we get patients who have survived a long time in freezing temperatures, they have normally lost a finger or two to frostbite," Dr. Leonardo Gutierrez said. "Other than being severely malnourished, he's perfectly fine."

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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