HELENA – A man stranded for three days on a snowy mountain road in Montana attributed his survival to God, a rationed supply of beef jerky and the “Angry Birds” game that he played on his cellphone to keep his wits.
David Heatherly said Thursday that his sport-utility vehicle became stuck in the snow Sunday afternoon on a back road in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, where he had gone to take photographs of the scenery and wildlife.
After discovering he had no phone reception and concluding that nobody else would brave the remote road in the blustery weather, the 42-year-old postal employee took stock: He had a pouch of beef jerky, some water and a little coffee.
“I’d seen stories of how people had basically been able to survive off that and I figured if they could do it, so could I,” Heatherly said.
So he set up a regimented routine and stuck to it. He napped for 45 minutes out of each hour in the Chevrolet Trailblazer, setting his cellphone’s alarm so that he could wake up to run the heater for 15 minutes.
While the heater was on, he nibbled on a small piece of jerky, listened to a Christian radio station and played the video game. After the 15 minutes were up, he shut off the engine to conserve gas and snoozed some more.
“Then I’d wake up and start it again. I played ‘Angry Birds’ on the phone to stay lucid,” Heatherly said.
He could play as much as he wanted thanks to his car charger, and the radio was a comfort, but the isolation in the remote Montana wilderness proved to be overwhelming at times.
“At one point, late Sunday night or Monday night, I wrote out a will just in case,” Heatherly said. “Those moments passed. Not quickly, but they passed.”
Then on Wednesday the weather cleared. Heatherly took it as a sign and started walking. He left behind his water and beef jerky and struck out in the sunshine.
“God told me to get off my butt and get my feet moving,” Heatherly said. “I didn’t even think about it. I knew I had to get going.”
After six or seven miles, he emerged from the wilderness near the Gibson Reservoir at the home of a worker who managed the dam there. The man took Heatherly in and gave him a bowl of hot soup.
Meanwhile, searchers from four counties had been combing the rugged terrain about 80 miles north of Helena since Heatherly’s wife reported him missing Sunday. Great Falls Police Detective Dan Smith said the search was about to escalate and he was talking to the Air Force about sending out a search helicopter when he got word that Heatherly had been found.
Smith said the road where Heatherly had become stranded closes in the winter and had just recently reopened. The detective said Heatherly’s experience is a reminder to be prepared for travel in the mountains during the changing seasons with chains, flares and an emergency kit.