SILVER CITY, New Mexico - Missing for days in the cold of the Gila, a father and son from El Paso are safe and headed home. They were found Tuesday afternoon in the Little Creek Trail in the Gila National Forest, spotted by a Border Patrol helicopter.
After surviving more than a week in the Gila Wilderness with only two sleeping bags, a tent and little food, 55-year-old Robert Fritz and his 15-year-old son Austin were found alive and in remarkably good health.
Robert spoke with ABC-7?s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom as he drove back home to El Paso Tuesday afternoon.
"Amazingly relieved," Robert said.
Robert said he felt overwhelmed with emotion Tuesday when he saw a helicopter circling through the sunlight overhead in the Gila National Forest.
"I heard the helicopter coming back, it had already gone by once,? Robert said. ?I had an orange poncho and a red dust pack, and I was waving them."
Incident Commander of New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue, Bob Rodgers, recalled the moment Border Patrol spotted Robert and Austin.
"They saw something flash,? Rodgers said. ?Something flashed at them, so when they turned around couldn't see it again, but on a second sweep were able to see the subjects themselves."
For many bitter nights, Robert and Austin were stranded in the dense forest. Snow-frosted ground is left from last Wednesday?s blizzard, the same storm Robert said that made it impossible for them to continue on their hike.
"We got two feet of snow overnight, and had no way to bail out to a short cut, to get out of the snow or to another trail head," Robert said.
Robert said they camped out nearly nine miles South of Little Creek Trail. Robert said he believes staying on their planned course helped rescuers locate them.
"They did the smart thing,? Rodgers said. ?They just hunkered down, built a camp, had a tent and stayed put."
But the cold was beginning to take a toll on Austin?s health, Robert said.
"I was getting desperate; my son was having trouble and wasn't able to eat so I was getting desperate,? Robert said. ?We were worried but we still had confidence and stuff we were OK for awhile."
Prayers for a speedy rescue were answered with patience and plenty of mental strength. Robert said he is an experienced hiker and visits the Gila multiples times a year, but never expected this trip to take a turn for the worst.
Robert said he is relieved they did not suffer frostbite, hypothermia, or anything worse. The two have returned home with family.