Missing Cumberland man, 65, found alive in forest

Jamie Sproule rushed to hospital dehydrated and in rough shape

When Annabelle Sproule set eyes on her father for the first time since he went missing five days ago, the first thing she did was begin to instil a sense of calm.

"I didn't know if he could hear me or not but I'm sure it was a very stressful situation for him," said the 33-year-old midwife. "I just told him to breathe slowly because he was breathing very fast. I held his hand and just tried to get him to relax."

Her father Jamie Sproule, who lives with Parkinson's disease and mild dementia, had wandered off and got stuck amongst the salmonberries, ferns and decaying organic matter in an old clearcut area about 500 metres from the Cumberland family's home on Comox Lake Road.

One of her best friends, Sophie Gilmour, had literally stumbled into the 65-year-old man as the last of the day's search parties was about to call it quits at about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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Comox Lake Road, Cumberland

"The brush is so thick you can't see your hand in front of your face," she said. "He was deep underneath a bunch of plants."

When Gilmour reached her at home by phone, she could hardly trust her own ears. They had found her father.

"I had to get her to say it three or four or five times. I just didn't believe her," Annabelle said. "I was totally dumbfounded."

Searchers began flagging the route down to Comox Lake Road and emergency response crews were alerted.

When fire chief Mike Williamson got word Jamie Sproule had been located, there were still a lot of questions.

"We didn't know if he was alive or not," he said, adding he soon sent as many people to the scene as possible. "I brought the whole department."

Sproule may not have been moving but he was definitely alive. Until that moment, things were looking grim.

"He may not have made it another night," Williamson said, explaining the forest can be a treacherous place for people in this sort of scenario. "It's pretty rough."

Sproule had gone for a walk Thursday morning around 10:30, but had strayed from his normal route. The family contacted the RCMP and a rescue effort kicked into high gear.

An official search logged more than 1,100 hours of trained rescue operations. And when the official search was suspended after three days, family and friends refused to give up, pushing futher into the bush, one small segment at a time.

"I've been breaking down the areas and creating missions," Annabelle said. "We've been sending out groups two or three times a day."

Megan Sommers, one of her father's treeplanting buddies, had seen some scavenger birds flying above the clearcut earlier in the day. The searchers decided to check that area later in the May 27 day as they returned to the village.

"It was very systematic," she said. "No stone was left unturned."

Williamson says the efforts of the determined searchers were nothing short of extraordinary.

"They never gave up," he said. "They kept looking."

Annabelle is a bit surprised herself.

"I just can't believe we were still searching and we found him so long after it seemed completely impossible," she said. "I was operating on autopilot. Whether or not I had hope that I would find him I'm not sure anymore what I thought."

Her father was carried out of the bush on a stretcher and sent to St. Joseph's General Hospital, where he remained unconscious late into the evening.

Doctors decided against sending him to Victoria, noting he had not suffered broken bones nor organ failure.

"I'm still worried because he's not awake right now and he's got a long road of recovery," she said. "But the doctors say he's going to be OK, so I guess I just have to believe them."

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