GOLD BEACH, Ore. (AP) - Three mushroom pickers lost six nights in the rugged forest of southwest Oregon used their dead cellphone and a sheath knife to flash a signal at the helicopter pilot who found them.
Dan Conne said Sunday from his hospital bed in Gold Beach that he and his wife and son spent the nights huddled in a hollow log with nothing to eat, and considered sacrificing their dog Jesse for food before they were found.
A volunteer helicopter pilot looking outside the search area Saturday spotted Dan and Belinda Conne, both 47, along with 25-year-old Michael, on the edge of a deep ravine in tall timber. They were several miles outside the community of Gold Beach, roughly 330 miles south-southwest of Portland.
"The wife had the Blackberry and I had the knife," Dan Conne told The Associated Press. "I kept flashing. The wife said, "You're blinding them.' But I wanted to make sure they seen us. I wasn't taking no chance."
He said the three had given up hope and thought they were going to die when rescuers came.
"None of us thought we were coming out of there," he said.
Until their rescue, the cold and hungry family had been unable to signal search helicopters flying low and slow overhead.
The three were airlifted to a Gold Beach hospital, where Curry County Sheriff John Bishop spoke with them at an emergency room. He said the Connes told him they could see search helicopters just a few hundred feet above them while they were lost but had nothing to signal them with through the thick, coastal forest vegetation.
Bishop said Daniel Conne suffered a back injury, Belinda Conne had hypothermia, and their son had a sprained foot and minor frostbite. All three also were dehydrated and hungry.
"They just got turned around," Bishop said. "They sought some shelter in a hollowed-out tree and basically they stayed in the same place. But it was heavy vegetation where they were."
Bishop said the three were "remarkably in pretty good shape," given the amount of time they spent outside. He said they likely could have survived for two or three more days in the area, where fresh water is plentiful but food is scarce. The weather was mostly clear, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s.
Bishop said the family was spotted by Jackson County Commissioner John Raschor, who was searching for them in his own helicopter with Curry County Sheriff's Lt. John Ward.
When dawn broke Saturday, Bishop said searchers entered the woods without much hope.
"We were sort of getting ready to go into body-recovery mode," he said.
The ordeal began last Sunday when the three went out looking for hedgehog mushrooms, an orange-topped fungus prized by mushroom hunters for its sweet and nutty flavor.
Dusk fell during the family's hunt. They started to return to their Jeep but couldn't agree on directions.
"Pretty quickly, they found they were lost," Bishop said.
The family found a forest road next to a river bank and huddled together with their dog, a pit bull-terrier mix.
Bishop said Daniel Conne told him he had a sinking feeling every day the family wasn't found. Daniel Conne would watch the search helicopter pass but was unable to get their attention.
When the family was finally found Saturday, they were only 200 yards from the nearest group of searchers.