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Prayers help wife and hunter lost in Idaho

By Derinda Moerer

David Hess packed an apple for sustenance the afternoon he left to scout some hunting places, but Bible verses and hymns sustained him through his next 24 hours.

The brisk November afternoon began like any other afternoon scouting trip. He stopped for a burger for lunch, ate his apple and lumbered up the road in his 1988 two-door Bronco utility vehicle, hunting for deer.

David Hess

Instead of taking the northern approach to 20 Mile Creek Road that divides the Katka Ridge hunting area, he chose to explore a new route, entering from the south. That decision led to a long, lonely night.

The 67-year-old pastor of Sagle Baptist Church suspected trouble after he ended up on a narrow, slush-covered off-shoot with his wheels spinning out. Trying to back down the steep, winding road in low-range four-wheel drive, he ended up in a rut. There, near the top of Black Mountain, he spent the night and most of the next day waiting for rescue.

About 3 p.m. he shot three quick shots, the hunters’ signal for help. Before darkness consumed his daylight, he wrote a goodbye note on the back of a receipt along with insurance information.

“I recognized the danger I was in,” David said, “so I wrote a note to my wife, family, friends and church members in case this didn’t come out with a good ending. I told them, ‘I love you all. I don’t want to leave you but I have no choice in the matter.’”

Watching the clouds overhead, he remained in his vehicle to keep dry. After the sun went down, his fleece shirt and wool hunting jacket kept his upper torso warm, but his legs were cold. He found a tarp and a windshield’s sun cover to lay across his lower extremities, and then settled in for the night. Every hour he ran his car engine for about 10 minutes to warm up.

Although he was fairly comfortable, sleep eluded him.  So he prayed, meditated on scriptures and sang his favorite hymns. Around dinnertime, when his wife, Sharon, would expect him home, he remembered she was at their daughter’s house for the day, babysitting their new granddaughter, and might not have missed him yet.

“About 6 p.m., I started praying that God would help her realize something was wrong,” David said.

“I asked God to jog her memory of where I told her I’d be and then to call the appropriate people.”

Meanwhile, Sharon returned home and thought it strange that David’s powder blue vehicle wasn’t in the driveway.

At 7 p.m. she decided to eat dinner alone and keep his dinner warm. Two hours later he still wasn’t home.  She was worried.

“At 9 p.m., I called Billy Lovelace, a member of the church who would know the area because they’d hunted there together,” Sharon said. “He told me to call search and rescue immediately.”

She called them, gave the necessary information and waited.

As the night wore on, Sharon wasn’t able to sleep any better than David.

She opened her Bible to the Psalms, and found verses of assurance, and she prayed.

“It was a long night. I was alone,” Sharon said. “I prayed, ‘Lord, you know where he is. It’s big country up there, but you know where he is.’”

Boundary County Sheriff and Boundary Search, Dive and Rescue Team searched until almost 4 a.m. when they called the search off because of snow and slush on the roads.

As Veteran’s Day dawned, search planes joined the ground hunt and flew over the forest-covered land looking for clues. David’s son Tom, son-in-law Will Puller and friend Dale Rohland rode with the pilot directing him to areas the men had hunted before.

“I saw the planes in the distance, but they never flew over me,” David said. “It snowed some through the night. Then in the morning the wind was blowing hard and the cloud formations were zipping by. I walked up to the ridge, but saw no one. Nine o’clock, 10, 11, noon—no one came. It was one o’clock, then two o’clock. At 2 p.m. I prepared to spend another night behind the wheel.”

Having brought no provisions, he was nearing a full day without water or food.

With the dawn also came people to support Sharon. Her daughter Angela Lindsay, daughter-in-law Joy Hess and her parents, Doug and Barbara Puller took calls and welcomed other friends and church members throughout the day. Their children living in other states were notified. Corners in the living room hosted individual and group prayer gatherings.

“It was a test of faith,” Sharon said. “It didn’t matter that I’m a pastor’s wife, I had to trust God. Being alone through the night was the hardest test. I drew strength from people through the day.”

The prayer vigil expanded to neighboring towns, through southern Idaho and eastward to Ohio, Vermont and Iowa, as church prayer chains were called.

The miracle happened before 3 p.m., Friday, after David settled into the driver’s seat, preparing for a second night.

“I looked into my side view mirror and saw a white jeep pull up,” David said. “I got out and said, ‘Boy am I glad to see you. I’ve been praying God would send someone. I need to be rescued.’”

The jeep driver was Jan-Michael Kline, who was hunting with his father, Alan. The two men were unaware that a search was in progress to find David. After hearing his story, they gave him a soft drink, some venison sausage, crackers and cheese to eat while they hooked David’s utility vehicle up to their winch and pulled him out of the ditch. Through conversation, David found that Alan was an elder in the nearby Cocolalla Cowboy Church.

“We had made a variation to go up there,” Alan said. “I’d said to my son, ‘Let’s turn around, but he said no, let’s go to the top.’ We’d been in several places when we found him. He was pretty frazzled, so we shared some food and pulled him out. I believe God sent us there.”

The hunters continued on their hunt, and David began his slow descent, driving down the mountain. In the meantime, the search and rescue teams were mobilizing snowmobiles, four wheelers and horses to help with the search.

Sharon’s concerns mounted.

“I had a sinking feeling as dark set in,” she said. “They were planning to send out more searchers.”

Then they the call came.  He had been found.

“It was a time of rejoicing,” Sharon said. “Everyone shared in a piece of the joy. I kept repeating the verse that says, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.’”

While they were celebrating, David walked through the back door, curious about the TV news van parked in his driveway. He was surprised so many people were looking for him.

“I realized that many people care for me,” David said. “People called the next week to say how much they love me, people with whom we have little contact.”

David and Sharon survived a 24-hour ordeal that tested their faith and refocused their priorities. Neither gave in to despair or lost hope. They trusted God for the outcome.

“I didn’t know if he’d be found, but I accepted what God’s will would be.” Sharon said. 

“The rescue was a miracle,” David said. “The people who found me were not looking for me. They went up that road on a whim.  I believe God directed them.”

David plans to hunt again next fall, but his friends and family have rules for him:  He has to take a canteen of water, his new cell phone and a new emergency kit with a map and compass, and he isn’t to go alone.

For information, call (208) 263-6029.