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Nova (Novy) Gilliatt sits on his porch with his wife, Bunny, last week after becoming disoriented in the woods while hunting mushrooms and spending the night in the woods earlier in the week. Several rescue teams and canine units combed the woods if an effort to find him. (Photo by Lee Cable)

All's well, despite night in woods

Man, 83, gets lost while hunting for mushrooms

May 14, 2008
An elderly Crawford County man who became disoriented while hunting mushrooms last week spent the night in the woods, then walked to safety the following morning while rescue teams combed the area in an effort to find him.

Nova (Novy) Gilliatt, 83, who lives along S.R. 237 south of English, left home around 1:30 p.m. last Tuesday to go mushroom hunting on Hoosier National Forest property just off Seaton Hill Road. He parked his truck along the road and walked into the woods where he has hunted mushrooms for more than 45 years.

"Around 7 p.m., we got a call from his wife," Crawford County Sheriff Tim Wilkerson said. "She was worried about him because he hadn't come home yet and had found his truck still parked along the road."

Wilkerson met Gilliatt's wife, Bunny, at the truck, then contacted the English Volunteer Fire Department and Crawford County Emergency Management Agency Director Kent Barrow. Firefighters searched the immediate area, but failed to locate Gilliatt. Barrow then contacted other agencies for help.

"We knew that Gilliatt had health issues," Barrow said. "He had a heart valve replacement and was a diabetic, so we felt that time was a factor."

Conservation Officer Gary Pendelton, who is with the canine unit of the Department of Natural Resources, brought his dog, and a search and rescue team from Spencer County, the Ohio Valley Search and Rescue Team from Vanderburg County and two teams from Louisville also came. Altogether, four canine teams were brought to the scene. Former Crawford County Sheriff Richard Scott was also called, since he knew the woods due to years of hunting in the area. Two law enforcement officers from the Hoosier National Forest also came to help.

"We knew what resources were available, and we used them," Barrow said. "As the hours passed, it was turning colder and started raining, we were all concerned that it would go from rescue to recovery."

The Red Cross brought sandwiches and coffee for the searchers, who were sent out in teams with radios. Many had all-terrain vehicles to aid in the search.

"When something like this happens, you shouldn't just run out and hit the woods," Barrow said. "It needs to be organized. We didn't really want everyone in the county to come and help. We had teams, with good communication equipment, and too many people moving around in the woods would have wiped out any scent that the dog teams were trying to find."

By the time it had gotten completely dark, a bus housing the EMA command center arrived with computers that were able to pull up satellite images and maps of the area and, using GPS, was able to set up grids of areas already searched and areas to be searched as the night continued.

Wilkerson was able to pop the door lock on Gilliatt's truck to allow the dogs to get a scent of the missing man, and they were able to find where he had been in the woods. But mushroom hunters tend to backtrack and zig-zag through an area and the dogs weren't able to untangle a definite trail.

"I left out about 1:30 on Tuesday (afternoon)," Gilliatt said in an interview at his home on Friday. "I went up on Seaton Hill next to the Blue River near Bogard Creek. It used to be the Tom Milby farm, and he raised a lot of grain there years ago, but it's all part of the forestry now. I've hunted mushrooms there for over 45 years, I guess.

"I parked along the road and started around the south hill. I planned to come back around the north side. I got to an old homesite, where I had found a few mushrooms before, where some old buildings used to stand.

"Then, I got turned around. I knew a guy named Luckett used to have a camp nearby, in the Carnes Mill area, but as I was walking, I came to a big pond. I knew if I kept walking straight, I'd get to Blue River, but I became totally fatigued," he continued.

"I fell down a couple of times, sat for about 15 minutes, then I'd use a sapling to help pull myself back up. I said to myself, 'Boy, I'm going to be lucky to get out of here — I'm wearing out.' I was lost in a way, and in a way, I wasn't."

As it began to get dark, Gilliatt heard traffic on a road. He also heard dogs barking near what he thought was Grantsburg.

"I guess someone got tired of hearing them bark and made them shut up," Gilliatt said. "I didn't hear them anymore. But as it got dark, I knew Bunny had rolled somebody out to look for me. I hollered, and I guess they hollered, but we couldn't hear each other. I guess the woods were too thick and the hills kept the sound from traveling. But it kept getting darker, and I said, 'Novy, use your head, you don't have a light, and if you keep stumbling around in the dark, you're going to fall and hurt yourself.' So, I did a few exercises, lifting my legs one at a time, to try to keep warm."

Gilliatt finally saw a little cliff, about 12 or 14 feet long, and the top of the cliff leaned out, forming a small shelter.

"I crawled under the little cliff and laid down in some dry leaves," Gilliatt said. "I guess the sun had been shining on the cliff that day, and the rocks were still warm. I scooted back against the rock and was pretty warm. I went to sleep right away. The rain woke me up once — I felt a few drops on my cheek, but I pulled my hat around and the drops of rain hit my hat bill — and I went back to sleep. The cliff leaned out just far enough to keep most of the rain off me."

At around 6:30 the next morning, Gilliatt woke up.

"I wake up about the same time every morning," he said. "I exercised until about 7, to get rid of the chill. Then, I started out walking. I realized that nothing was wrong with me, it was daylight and I should be able to walk out. I could hear some humming noises, and I could hear a lot of traffic on the roads, so I knew Bunny had people out looking for me. I climbed up a large hill into some big timber, then headed out in the right direction."

Gilliatt came out of the woods near a homesite that is used mainly on weekends. There was water running out of a pipe that had been connected to a spring.

"I got a few mouthfuls of water, and rinsed my face off," Gilliatt said. "That helped revive me a little. I saw a little sign that had been mounted in a concrete wall. It said, 'The Best Things in Life are Free.' I certainly agreed with that. I paced myself and started walking up the road. A few minutes later, a truck came over the hill, and I just stood there, he was going to have to run over me before I'd let him get by. But it was an old friend of ours, a minister, Doug Phillips. He jumped out of the truck, grabbed me, hugged me, and said, 'Novy Gilliatt, thank God you're still alive.' I got in his truck, and he took me up the hill. Bunny and a whole bunch of people were there. He pulled up next to Bunny and said, 'Hey, Bunny, look what I found.' "

Gilliatt was given some crackers and Tang orange juice and when he asked for a cup of coffee, Barrow and the others made sure he had it.

"I had gone home for a while," Bunny said, "but I was back at 6 a.m. When they couldn't get him to answer their calls, I was worried. I began to think the worse. I didn't think he'd come out alive. He's sitting here now acting like it was no big deal, but he was shaking and tired when he got out of that truck. But it was a happy day. There was a great bunch of guys there that night. And one lady, Wanda Clutinger, was so good to me. She really looked after me and made sure I had anything I needed. And I guess we have to give most of the credit to our Father."

Gilliatt was taken to Bloomington Hospital of Orange County, where he was kept overnight for observation. He had a small injury on one of his hands and a few scrapes, but was otherwise healthy. Before going to the hospital, Bunny found more than 50 ticks on him, and doctors found six more after he arrived at the hospital.

"I guess I'm not as strong as I used to be," Gilliatt said. "And I guess that will be my last big mushroom hunt. But I'd like to thank all the people who helped. I didn't know a lot of them. But that Mr. Barrow, I sure owe him a lot of thanks, and all the others, too. I sure wish I could thank each and every individual. And the phone has rung over and over — people checking on me.

"And you know," Gilliatt continued, wiping away a tear. "There was a minister that came to the hospital and told me, 'Just hold my hand,' and I did. And we said the Lord's Prayer."

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