Five days after going missing during a horseback-riding trip, Kaden Laga, 25, was found alive and well on Friday morning.
While with family members in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, a mountainous region on the border of Montana and Idaho, Laga’s brother’s horse went lame. Laga, the strongest hiker of the group, offered to switch with his brother and walk.
He volunteered to walk ahead of the group toward the trailhead but made a wrong turn and got lost.
Before he left on the trip, Laga’s pregnant wife, Arden, “looked at me and said, ‘you better promise me that you come home safe,’ ” he told CNN affiliate KSTU.
Determined to get back to his family, he drank water from streams and ate berries and crickets.
One night, it was so cold that he thought he would not live to see the sun rise. Fearing that he would never again see his wife or meet their child, he wrote a note on his phone.
“In case I don’t make it out of here, I love you. I’ve loved my life with you, and I’m so sorry I left you to be a single mom.”
Arden and the Laga family set up a command center at his parents’ home in Florence, Montana. Searchers used hounds, thermal imaging and helicopters.
One day, Laga saw the search helicopters flying overhead.
“I’m like, ‘this is it. They’re going to get me,’ and they just take off in the other direction,” he said.
After realizing that the searchers had not seen him, he knew that it was up to him to find his way out. Luckily for him, a rescuer had left a headlamp on while they slept one night, and Laga used it to find one of the campsites about 1 a.m. Friday.
“I really hope the takeaway isn’t that I’ve done this amazing thing,” Laga told CNN affiliate KPAX. “I was very gifted, blessed, protected. As much as a lot of things went wrong, there were a lot of key things that went right.”
“Kaden (and I) have been resting and reconnecting since returning and he’s doing great,” Arden said in a statement posted to a Facebook group set up for the search. “We are expecting some physical and emotional abnormalities to start showing up in the next few days. We had planned a trip to Hawaii 4 months ago that we are still planning to take to help us rest, reconnect and take things easy.”