Mankato native survives harrowing desert ordeal
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — “Hi, this is Mick Ohman. I’m leaving this message. Hopefully no one else will ever have to see this ... I’ve been praying all night. I’m terrified.”
In a chilling cellphone video made in July by the Mankato native, Ohman talked of his waning strength, dehydration and hopelessness as he was stranded in the 108-degree heat of the Arizona mountains, the Mankato Free Press reported . His vehicle broke down in a wilderness area, he had no phone reception, scant water and no one knew where he was or that he was missing.
Ohman’s sister, Mitzi Roberts of Mankato, said that when her brother called her a few days later from his home and began telling a story of a sightseeing trip gone bad, she listened with half attention to the guy she said “always seemed to get himself into weird predicaments” as a kid.
“I was kind of half listening until he said, ‘And I had to drink my own urine,’ and I thought, geez, this was serious,” said Roberts, who owns Dance Express in Mankato.
Ohman, 55, was born and raised in Mankato and spent 25 years as a contractor in the Twin Cities. In August 2015, his parents, Roderick Elbert and Kathy Ohman of North Mankato, were killed in a car crash after leaving the Blue Earth County Fair.
Ohman went to Phoenix where his parents had spent their winters to take care of their affairs and fell in love with the area and the many friends the couple had made there. He moved to Phoenix a year later.
On July 27 he took an 80-mile drive up the mountains to explore and have lunch at Crown King, a near ghost town in the Bradshaw Mountains.
“It was beautiful. There was just the owner and a local prospector guy in the diner and they had me sit with them and we talked.”
Ohman told them he wanted to take a different route home and showed a map he’d called up on Google. They told him the route was dangerous and drew a different route back to Phoenix they said would take four or five hours.
“So I’m all excited and set out,” Ohman said in a phone interview this week. “I don’t think either of them had been down that road in five or 10 years. It just went from bad to worse.”
Ohman drove his new Honda CR-V crossover for two hours or more, heading down an increasingly treacherous, rocky path.
“I could look out and straight down a 500-foot ravine. I couldn’t even get out of the car. I was on a goat path.”
He finally reached a spot he could turn around. But when he tried to ascend, his tires were spinning and the vehicle fishtailing, forcing him back down the mountain road.
He had to stop several times to move large rocks from the road. That’s when he noticed rocks and heavy brush along the road had damaged engine hoses, causing fluid leaks. His vehicle was soon immobilized.
It was 3 p.m. on Thursday and he had no phone service. He walked a mile up a ridge hoping to get reception on top. “It was 108 degrees. It was hard walking. And there’s snakes and scorpions and cactus all over.”
There was no reception atop the ridge and he returned to his vehicle.
He drank the half bottle of water he had in his vehicle. “I had a couple cans of beer but knew that just makes you more dehydrated. I was getting bad dehydration, my throat was swelling up, my fingers were swelling and pruning.”
During the night he collected his urine and drank it. “It helped. Surprisingly it’s not bitter or salty or nasty like you’d think. But it’s like hot soup.”
Overnight the temperature sunk only to 89 degrees.
“I did a lot of praying that night.”
Ohman set out down to a valley Friday morning in search of water in the arid landscape.
“I found a trickle of water coming up out of the sand and then disappearing into rock. Oh my goodness that was good.”
He drank as much as he could and filled a few beer cans and a bottle with water and went back to stay with his vehicle, hoping it might be spotted by someone. Ohman put his spare tire on the windshield hoping anyone seeing it would realize he wasn’t just camping in the area. He built a large “H″ for help in the sand with rocks for anyone flying over.
Hearing no airplanes or any distant sounds of four-wheelers or dirt bikes, he grew more desperate. He shot a .22 rifle in three-shot SOS distress calls but to no avail.
He returned to get more water as the day wore on.
“The little creek was gone. It had dried up. That really worried me.”
He dug into the sand to get a little water, slowly scooping out about a tablespoon at a time to put in a bottle. “I knew there was no water after this.”
That evening he shot the first video on his cellphone. “I made a video so people would know what happened if I died. I said how much I love my sisters, Mitzi and Mindy. I was crying.”
In desperation he tried to start a fire from dried brush on a hillside. The whole region had been under an extreme fire risk warning and he knew firefighters were watching for smoke.
“I knew it was dangerous to do.” He got some brush burning but it didn’t spread, so he spent hours collecting dried brush, wild mule dung and wood from a wide area to build a large burn pile.
That’s when a quick-moving, intense thunderstorm rolled in. “The rain put the kibosh on my fire idea. It rained most of the night. It cooled things off.”
Saturday morning he decided he had to leave his vehicle and hope to find help. He still had battery life on his phone and called up a Google Earth photo he had taken before he’d headed out on his trip that showed the area he was in. He spotted a brown patch that he thought could be the roof of a cabin and headed in that direction. He still had a GPS signal that showed his location.
“It was a lot further than I thought. Very rugged terrain. I was feeling sick,” he said. He finally arrived only to find the brown square he’d seen wasn’t a cabin but an earthen berm built to collect water for wildlife to drink. The water was rancid.
He trudged on but knew he had almost nothing left. “I could barely lift my legs anymore.”
Around noon, Troy Haverland, riding his dirt bike as he often did in the area, topped a hill.
“He came flying over the hill. We scared the crap out of each other,” Ohman said.
Haverland stayed back and warned Ohman that he had a gun. “There are stories of people getting ambushed out there by people pretending to be broke down,” Ohman said of his rescuer’s initial wariness.
“Then he got closer and saw my bloody legs and looked at me and knew I was in trouble,” Ohman said. “He said, ‘You know you’re a long way from anything?’”
Haverland sat on the gas tank while Ohman sat on the seat during a nearly hourlong ride to a ranger station at a park. “I told him you can tell your family and friends you saved a life today,” Ohman said.
While Ohman was being rescued, another group of men from a nearby Air Force base who were riding dirt bikes came across Ohman’s vehicle and several notes he’d left explaining what happened and saying he’d set out on foot. The men searched for Ohman for hours and contacted authorities before learning he was safe.
Ohman lost 14 pounds during the ordeal.
Since the rescue, Ohman and Haverland have become close friends. “I’ve talked to Troy every day. We’ve gone to church together twice. I made a lifelong friend,” Ohman said.
Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com