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Airman Found After 16 Days in Snow

December 28, 2000

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ An Air Force man who allegedly went AWOL and got trapped in deep snow for 16 days, surviving in his car on M&Ms and orange juice, was released from a hospital Wednesday and turned over to military officials.

Thomas Wade Truett, 29, of Jacksonville, Fla., may face prosecution on desertion charges.

The snowmobilers who found Truett on Saturday said he wore no coat or sweater, only a T-shirt. He had lost 20 pounds and had scrawled a farewell note to his parents. He was treated for hypothermia.

``He’s got some healing that he needs to do,″ sheriff’s Cpl. Neil Mackey said. ``What he went through, it’s enough to make a sane man crazy.″

Truett, an airman first class who enlisted in early summer, had recently succumbed to personal problems, according to Mackey, who would not elaborate. He fled his job as a fuel manager at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D., on Dec. 3 and drove to Oregon.

Four days after he set out, Truett’s sports car became stuck in blustery weather on a snowy, rural road in central Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, Mackey said.

``I think his original intent was to see the West, work some things out and then maybe kill himself,″ Mackey said. ``But after he was trapped he turned to a survival mode.″

Truett survived four days in the woods, using a cigarette lighter to build small fires.

After depleting the lighter fuel, Truett tried hiking out of the forest but was too weak. He retreated to the car, consumed his meager rations _ which consisted of only orange juice, water and a package of almond M&Ms _ and wrote a note to his parents in Florida, dated Dec. 13.

The note, titled ``Starvation or Froze to Death,″ said his last request was to have no autopsy and to be cremated, Mackey said. He further requested that his ashes be scattered in Norway _ the homeland of a former ``love of his life.″

The snow piled higher and higher, burying his car.

On Friday, after 11 days in the car, Truett heard snowmobiles passing by and threw his backpack, a notebook and some clothing out the window to let people know he was there, Mackey said. He wasn’t found for another day, when a group of snowmobilers came by and saw the black backpack.

Chuck Bloom tossed the frozen bag aside into a drift, knocking some snow away and revealing the glint of a car window.

``All of a sudden this little claw hand comes up and taps twice,″ said his wife, June Bloom. ``It just scared us to death. We thought, `Oh my God, there’s somebody in there.‴

Chuck Bloom went for help while his wife and their companions started shoveling through the 5 feet of snow. She reached through a window, sliding socks over Truett’s hands and feeding him two containers of orange juice.

The airman was being returned to Ellsworth. Typically, someone has to be gone for 30 days before desertion allegations arise.

``He’s happy to be alive,″ Mackey said. ``He knows there’s some things he has to go face, but he also realizes he has been given a second chance.″

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On the Net:

Deschutes National Forest: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/deschutes/welcome.html

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