12-year-old Lucas Saylor spends a night alone in the wild, after technology failure

June 6, 2019 GMT

Erin Saylor received a phone call from family members that they couldn’t find her 12-year-old son Lucas around 9:30 p.m. May 26 while the family was camping at Toketee.

“I totally thought they were joking,” she said.

They weren’t.

Lucas Saylor had gone bow hunting for bear earlier that day, and was supposed to be waiting along the road with a fire going.

Family members continued to use two vehicles to drive up and down the roads where he was supposed to be until 2:30 the next morning.

Lucas, however, had gotten lost. His GPS device failed and he didn’t realize he had been walking around in circles until it started getting dark.

Lucas, who lives in Lookingglass with his family and attends Camas Valley Charter School, had two cell phones with him. When the one with GPS malfunctioned he was able to get one bar on his other phone but was unable to reach 9-1-1, because he left his phone in airplane mode.

There was snow on the ground, but Lucas was able to get a fire started and build a shelter. He also fired his emergency pistol three times.

“It started hailing and it got really foggy and dark so I decided to make a fire and make a camp,” he said. “Everything was wet so I had to burn my hatchet case to get the fire going.”

For dinner, the 12-year-old roasted s’mores over the fire. Lucas said he had to put more wood on the fire about every 45 minutes to keep it going, but decided to get some sleep anyway.

“I cut down pine limbs to keep me dry and I was under a tree,” he said.

More than 60 family members began searching that night. Meanwhile, family notified the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, local churches, and anyone willing to help look for Lucas.

Search and Rescue Coordinator Brian Melvin said the first night two deputies were deployed and two volunteers helped out to set up a containment area.

Lucas’ father Jason Saylor, who grew up in the area said, “I sent him on that hunt because he’s surrounded by four roads and I’d told him not to cross the road.”

Jason Saylor was hunting with Sydney, the Saylors’ 11-year-old daughter, at the same time Lucas was hunting by himself.

“I heard about it, but I went to bed and forgot all about it,” Sydney said. “When I woke up he was there and it just seemed like a normal day.”

Sydney was one of the few people who slept, something Erin Saylor attributed to a quite physical hunting trip earlier that day.

Lucas has been hunting since he was old enough to walk, so his dad wasn’t real concerned. The rest of their children, Sydney, Blaine, 15, and Crystal, 14, are all experienced in the outdoors too.

But Erin Saylor thought maybe her son had gotten hurt.

“Mom and dad were very confident that he was going to be ok,” Melvin said.

Sheriff’s deputies helped look for Lucas the evening he went missing and at one point could smell smoke, but because of how dark it was around 1 a.m. decided not to go much further up and start searching again in the morning.

“They were near the trail head of where our subject walked in and they could smell smoke,” Melvin said. “They knew the kid was able to start a fire.”

Jason Saylor went back to the creek where he and the deputy smelled smoke the next morning.

Jason positioned himself in a way that sound would echo and fired off a shot, which woke Lucas.

Lucas had one bullet left and fired his pistol. He then climbed a tree to see if he could see anyone, but he couldn’t. He grabbed his elk call to make noise.

Jason Saylor had started walking toward the sound of the gun shot and father and son were reunited not long after.

“I felt like I was lost, but my plan was to walk up the mountain in the morning and find the road,” Lucas said. In hindsight it turns out he was less than half a mile from the road at the bottom of the mountain.

Nearly 150 people came to look for Lucas, including about 20 people dispatched from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and Search and Rescue.

“As they were getting ready to deploy, Lucas came walking out, he self-rescued,” Melvin said. “That kid, he was so well prepared. There are people that we go look for in their 30s, 40s ‘wilderness experts’ who have hunted their whole life, who would not fare as well as this kid did. He did everything right, stayed calm knew exactly what to do.”

Melvin said he’d love to have Lucas join Search and Rescue, train with them and get certifications so that as soon as he turns 14 he can hit the ground running.

“He would be outstanding,” Melvin said. “He was dressed for the weather, he had all the supplies he needed to survive. Say he was lost in a larger wilderness area, he would have been fine another night. This is how well prepared this kid was.”

And while Lucas did a lot of things right, his dad said it was still a learning opportunity. Lucas has since celebrated his 13th birthday where he received several whistles he’ll be able to use if he gets lost again.

Lucas also built his camp close to a stream, which made it hard for him to hear the people yelling his name, and his campfire was just a smolder by morning, which meant helicopter crews were unable to see him from the air.

“Overall I couldn’t have been prouder,” Jason Saylor said. “He did exactly what I’ve been talking about with him all these years. You realize that you get a false sense of security with all the technology and you need to be able to fall back on basic survival skill.”

As for Lucas’ siblings, they’re tired of hearing the story and were quick to point out they didn’t get lost.