SORRENTO, Maine — A Pennsylvania man spent an unplanned night in the cool, wet woods of Hancock County before crossing paths Tuesday morning with a contingent of the large search party preparing to look for the missing hiker.
A game warden said Tuesday that the man made the right decision by staying put in the woods Monday night rather than risk getting lost or injured while attempting to hike back to his car in the dark.
James Comerford, 65, of Oreland, Pa., apparently hiked farther or longer than planned in the public reserve land around Black Mountain and Donnell Pond north of Sullivan and found himself unable to reach his car by nightfall, according to Sgt. Alan Gillis of the Maine Warden Service.
Comerford had no cellphone reception and his wife — staying in nearby Sorrento — reported him missing around 7 p.m. Monday.
Three game wardens and a state police trooper searched for the man Monday night after finding his car near a trailhead. By Tuesday morning, more than a dozen game wardens and about a dozen volunteer search and rescue personnel were preparing to continue the search when wardens encountered Comerford leaving in his car. He was chilly and wet but uninjured after spending the night under a tree, Gillis said.
“He was just farther into the woods than he anticipated and he didn’t want to be traveling after dark in that terrain because it can be very treacherous … especially when wet,” Gillis said.
Gillis said obviously it would have been preferable that Comerford reached his car before dark, thereby avoiding an intensive search and rescue mission. But he said the warden service recommends people lost or delayed in the woods stay in one place rather than risk making the situation worse for themselves and rescuers by wandering in the dark.
“He did exactly the correct thing,” Gillis said. “When he realized he could not get out before dark, he sat down and stayed put.”