Medford teen lost at Sugarloaf built snow cave to survive cold

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A Medford teenager built himself a snow cave during the two days he spent lost on Sugarloaf Mountain and managed to walk out to safety today by following the sound of snowmobiles and the tracks searchers had left in the snow, officials said.

Nicholas Joy after the rescue (Game Warden Sergeant Scott Thrasher)

“He built a snow cave,’’ said Maine Warden Service Lieutenant Kevin Adam at a press briefing at the Maine ski resort this morning. “That was the right thing to do.’’

The teenager, Nicholas Joy, 17, had been skiing with his father at Sugarloaf Sunday morning and was last seen near the Timberline trail on the mountain’s west side around 1 p.m. that day.

Today, he walked out of the tree line onto Caribou Pond Road, well west of the ski resort, and flagged down Joseph Paul, a vacationing fire department captain from Warwick, Mass. Paul had ridden his snowmobile along the road partly in hope of finding Joy, officials said.

Joy was cold and hungry, but otherwise showed no obvious signs of medical need. His joyful parents joined him when he was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, officials said.

“This kind of thing, it’s almost like a miracle,’’ said Sugarloaf general manager John Diller.

Diller said he was with Joy’s parents about a minute after they learned the good news that their son had survived. “I cried,’’ Diller said.

Joy’s parents issued a statement this afternoon, thanking those who had participated in rescue efforts, including Paul. “There is great relief and happiness that Nicholas has made it through this difficult ordeal,” the statement said. The statement said Joy was “doing well” after his ordeal.

Officials said searchers included Navy SEALs, Marines, Border Patrol officers, and at least two volunteer mountain rescue teams.

Search crews had previously covered Caribou Pond Road, a snowmobile trail in the winter, officials said, leaving behind tracks in the snow that Joy used to help find his way out of the woods.

Paul told WHDH-TV [Channel 7] that Joy told him he had used survival skills he learned from television to keep himself alive, including using branches to provide warmth and by drinking water from a nearby stream.

“Amazing,’’ Paul said of the teen’s survival. “Amazing.’’

Paul said the teen told him he was skiing on Sunday, reached the end of the trail, and then started hiking back up the mountainside. At some point, the teen decided to take a shortcut.

“And then he got lost,’’ said Paul.

Paul said Joy was not overly worried about his potentially life-threatening situation.

“He wasn’t too concerned. He was a little cold and he got his feet wet,’’ Paul said. “But he was in good condition.’’

Diane DiGirolamo, Joy’s aunt, stopped by to visit his grandmother Tuesday afternoon in the family’s home in Medford.

DiGirolamo said the family was overjoyed and that her nephew was in good health, but would be kept in the hospital overnight. Joy’s request for a first meal upon being returned to civilization: a hamburger, she said.

It had been a tense, difficult two days for the family, she said. “We didn’t know what to think. All we could do was hope and pray. We’re just ecstatic.”

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