Missing refuge hiker found

WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE, Okla._The hiker who went missing Monday in the refuge has been found dehydrated and weak after 12 hours of searching.

Fish and Wildlife Services started searching for 29-year-old Chris Johnson around 10:00 p.m. Monday after his parents called and said their son went for a hike around 4:30 p.m. and never returned. The search was called off around 3:00 a.m. and picked back up around four hours later. The search ended early Tuesday afternoon after Johnson, tired and lost, stumbled across a house and was able to call 911.

All things considered, Johnson is doing alright. Refuge officials believe he accidently veered off the hiking trail after mistaking a worn buffalo path that stemmed from the actual trail. Johnson told them once he got lost, he decided to just keep pushing forward until he came across help, which in this case was about six rugged miles away.

Wildlife officers, friends, family and volunteers combed through the refuge beginning at 7:00 a.m. to try to locate the missing hiker. The Sunset Picnic Area was temporarily closed while the search was being conducted.

Kelly Moran, supervisor of law enforcement at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, says once word got out about the search, people started showing up by the car loads, eager to help.

"I've had to turn away a lot of people here. They've been extremely understanding and have been offering their sincere thoughts and prayers in the location of this missing hiker," Moran said.

Agencies from Southwest Oklahoma—including volunteer fire departments, sheriff's offices and OHP—all pitched in wherever they could help. OHP even brought in a helicopter. Everyone had one goal in mind.

"We're going to search until we find him," Moran said.

As crews were searching through miles of thick brush and rough terrain, they got an unexpected, but welcomed, call.

Johnson had made his way out of the refuge to a home on Indiahoma Road around 2:00 p.m. where he was able to call 911. Acting Fire Management Officer Jeremiah Phillips says he couldn't have asked for a better ending.

"Fortunately, in this instance, the individual made it out safe and sound. He's being checked out, he's safe and it's a very good thing for all concerned," Phillips said.

Phillips also made sure to thank the volunteers and the various agencies as they left for the day.

As for Johnson, he was treated with plenty of water and some food back at the Wildlife Headquarters, where he was reunited with his family.