Nfld. & Labrador

'You're not dying': Drive to live helps 82-year-old survive over 24 hours lost in woods

Sheer will and determination were the forces of nature that kept an elderly Newfoundland man alive, as he wandered in the woods for almost 24 hours.

Bill Snelgrove wandered down the wrong path while berry picking, but lived to tell the tale

Missing berry picker

Here and Now

5 years ago
William Snelgrove, the 82-year-old berry picker who went missing from his personal care home in Conception Bay South on Monday, spoke to the CBC's Cecil Haire. 2:00

Sheer will and determination were the forces of nature that kept an elderly Newfoundland man alive, as he wandered in the woods for over 24 hours earlier this week.

Bill Snelgrove, 82, went into the woods at around 1 p.m. on Monday near an electrical substation in the Kelligrews area of Conception Bay South.

He wasn't found until around 3 p.m. the next day.

I wasn't going to die in the woods.- Bill Snelgrove

"I said Billy Snelgrove, you're going to make it home, you're not dying," Snelgrove told CBC News Thursday.

Snelgrove said he had been picking berries earlier that day and went back into the woods to retrieve a knapsack he had misplaced.

Wearing nothing but a sweater and a pair of jeans, the 82-year-old said it was a cold, wet and at times snowy night.

"I wasn't going to die in the woods," said Snelgrove.

Bill Snelgrove was overcome with emotion as he explained the nearly 24 hours he spent wandering lost, scared, and cold in the woods. (Ted Dillon and Damian Morrissey/CBC)

"There was nothing else going through my mind except, get home."

He said he never felt like he was in trouble, but realizes now that he kept heading in the wrong direction.

Snelgrove was reported missing shortly after supper and the search overnight and into the early morning involved police, the Rovers Search and Rescue group, and a helicopter from Gander.

At four in the morning the search was called off due to poor conditions.

"I said the Lord's prayer before I went to sleep that night," said Snelgrove. "That was a good sleep."

'I almost gave up'

Snelgrove said he knew people were looking for him that night because he could see the light from a helicopter up above.

"I could hear my son calling out to me," Snelgrove said, with a shaking voice. "I called out to him but he couldn't hear me."

A helicopter from the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron in Gander helped in the search for Bill Snelgrove earlier this week. (Twitter@RNC_PoliceNL)

At one point, Snelgrove said he had to crawl on the mud and leaf-covered ground.

He figures he crawled for about a quarter mile.

Being down on the ground I would have died. Oh yes, definitely.- Bill Snelgrove

A retired Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer, who voluntarily joined the search effort, found a battered and cold Snelgrove at around 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Snelgrove recalls being unable to go any further, unable to walk and holding on to a tree for dear life in order to keep himself upright.

"I could crawl, I almost gave up. This is why I stood up," he said. "Being down on the ground I would have died. Oh yes, definitely."

The retired officer gave him a jacket to stay warm until crews to come and help.

"When they put me on the stretcher, I said,'Well I'm home.'"

'I'll be berry picking again'

Snelgrove said when he saw his family, they hugged him and said he wasn't allowed to go berry picking again.

While he feels a bit stiff right now, he has no plans to follow their advice.

"I'll be berry picking again," he said. "I'll be going Monday if it's a nice day."

But this time, his family said he'd be bringing a GPS tracker along for the walk.