Stranded for Days: San Diego hiker's incredible story of surviva - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Stranded for Days: San Diego hiker's incredible story of survival in Joshua Tree

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) – A San Diego hiker who was rescued last Thursday after being stranded in Joshua Tree for five days shared his incredible story of survival.

Paul Hanks, 54, was found last week with head injuries he suffered from a fall while he was hiking in Joshua Tree on what was supposed to be a half-day hiking trip that turned into a five-day fight for his life.

From his hospital bed, the La Mesa resident and attorney told News 8 he was amazed he survived for five days dressed in just shorts and a t-shirt. Hanks said he had only with him a couple of energy packs and a few hours’ worth of water.

“I am still in a little bit of shock. To quit out there is basically a death sentence,” he said.

Hanks drove to the park from San Diego on Sunday, March 11th to celebrate his 54th birthday. Hanks said he is a very experienced hiker and had been to Joshua Tree several times, but that Sunday while bouldering or “rock hopping,” he fell.

“It happened. I slipped and it was just – not having slipped in 45-years, it was instant and total shock,” he said.

Hanks said he fell about 20 feet, shattered his left heel and broke his pelvis.

Hanks yelled for help, but no one was there.

“I crawled. I literally crawled and crawled and crawled,” he said. As night fell and temperature dropped, he settled under a Joshua Tree to sleep.

“I chose that area because I thought the ground around the tree would be a little softer and could dig down into it and throw up some of the dirt on me for additional warmth.”

Soon, Hanks ran out of water.

“By the very first night I was drinking my own urine. I had drank all of the water in my bottle and was refilling my bottle with my own urine.”

Hanks later fell a second time – falling 15-feet and hitting his head. In was in and out of consciousness – sometimes hallucinating, but refusing to give up.

He even ate cactus for food. “It gave me some physical energy and it gave me some hope,” he said.

On day five, Hanks said he thought he was dreaming when he heard voices. A search and rescue crew from the park had found him.

“These three angels appeared out of nowhere. I was shocked. I just could not believe it. I did not want to say I had given up. Multiple times I had written myself off as dead – that I was never going to see another human being again,” said Hanks.

Hanks was reunited with his family at a hospital in Palm Springs.

He has undergone at least one surgery and will be undergoing more, but is expected to make a full recovery.

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