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Missing Sauquoit man found after grueling five day search

By Joleen Ferris

(WKTV) - Around 1:00 Thursday afternoon, Eric Combs got the call he was starting to fear would never come; his father, missing hiker Donald Combs, 84, was found alive.

"Cried, cried. I didn't believe he would be alive. At this point the way his age and everything I just didn't think he'd be alive by now. I know he didn't have a lot of stuff with him. It's just amazing that he made it...I... just...I'm amazed," said Combs. 

Combs sped to an airstrip in Woodgate, where a state police helicopter transported his father from the woods to a waiting ambulance, which took him to a Utica hospital.  

Early Thursday afternoon, a State Police K9 locked in on a scent and lead his handler and other officers to a severely dehydrated, disoriented Donald Combs. It appears they found him just in time.   

"He was aware, he was awake, and when the trooper approached him, he was able to identify himself that he was Donald Combs but he was very weak. He was unable to move from that point," says State Police Captain Francis Coots. 

Combs went hiking last Thursday. When he didn't immediately return, his family grew concerned and started looking for him. Police began searching over the weekend.  Coots is glad State Police had not yet scaled back their search, but says re-evaluation of the search effort was near. 

"We had already made plans to search through the weekend, and then Sunday comes and we'd have to evaluate it."

State Police are waiting to talk to Combs to see how he got lost and became unable to get back to civilization.  They say they found him in very rough terrain, about a half-mile outside their search grid.

As many as 500 troopers and forest rangers searched for Donald Combs in the woods in Forestport. His son can't find the words to thank them. 

"There's not enough words to express our gratitude for everything the state troopers, DEC, forest rangers, choppers, dogs....God bless you that's nothing but swamp, thick terrain, it's just awful, it's nothing I would ask anybody to do, but they were there, they did it, they didn't give up."

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