Nfld. & Labrador

Berrypicker, 74, lost for a week but never gave up hope

A man who went missing for almost a week while picking berries in central Newfoundland says it never crossed his mind that no one would find him.

'Fear never ever registered in my mind,' says rescued man

Survival story

9 years ago
Duration 14:55
Ches Sweetapple and his wife Florence describe how he was able to survive a week in the woods after going missing while berrypicking

A man who went missing for almost a week while picking berries in central Newfoundland says it never crossed his mind that no one would find him.

Chesley Sweetapple, 74 and diabetic, was reported missing on Saturday, July 27, when he did not return from berry picking near Red Indian Lake, near Millertown.

Searchers found a disoriented Sweetapple in the woods on Friday, Aug. 2, and brought him to hospital in Corner Brook for treatment.

Sweetapple said he had headed out into the woods from his cabin and found a large patch of bakeapples, which he began to pick. He lost track of time, however, and unexpectedly discovered the sun was setting.

After trying to find his way back in the dark, Sweetapple realized he couldn't figure out where he was, so he lay down in a bog to get some rest on the night of July 26.

Sweetapple said he tried to keep track of where he was by marking trees around the bog with ribbon.

"I went right the distance of the pond and I strung an orange ribbon on it, that's a ribbon that we use for marking our rabbit snares."

Sweetapple said he knew better than to venture into the woods.

"I said now don't go in the woods, because if I go in the woods they may never find me, so I stayed on that bog and that's where I slept all the time, on the bog," he said.

Sweetapple said he ate some of the berries he had picked to keep himself going.

"I'd have a little handful of berries, a couple of those leaves — which tasted good — and water, and that was what I kept going on," he said.

Sweetapple said he can't remember much after day 4 or 5 , but it never occurred to him that he would die out there.

"Fear never ever registered in my mind. Never," he said.

"There was nothing that ever crossed me like they're never going to find me, I'm going to die, never crossed my mind. Never. I just keep plugging along — that was it."

Rescuers had originally called off the search after the first few days when they found no trace of him, but decided to resume searching late on Thursday and found him the following morning.

Sweetapple credits his bright orange hood for helping searchers locate him.

His wife, Florence Sweetapple, said everyone was shocked when he was found alive.

"After seven days, my son and I were doubtful that he'd be home, but as the doctor in Corner Brook said, he's a miracle man," she said. "And it's amazing what he went through and how he survived it."

Sweetapple is happy to be back home in St. John's after the ordeal, but got some good advice while he was in the hospital.

"The doctor in Corner Brook, he said, 'Chesley, the next time you want the berries, you go to a supermarket and buy them.'"