Missing hunter found after hours in woods

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., man in the early stages of dementia and hunting in Covington County, was lost for nearly seven hours in below-freezing temps Saturday.

Sheriff Dennis Meeks said 75-year-old James “Buck” Smith was dropped off by relatives at a hunting blind located just off Zell Road at approximately 1 p.m.

“But, when they came back to pick him up at 5:30 p.m., he was missing,” Meeks said. “When deputies arrived at 7:18 p.m., family members said Buck was suffering from the first stages of dementia.”

Sheriff’s Posse members and a tracking K-9, along with deputies and reserve members, were called in to assist with the search. Meeks said the decision was then made to seek assistance from Dale County’s helicopter, which is equipped with ‘Flir,” a heat-seeking radar.

“Ground units, along with the air unit, searched the area diligently for the hunter,” Meeks said. “The tracking dog tracked the hunter to Plywood Mill Road, in the vicinity of Bamboo Lane, two different times.”

He said at 11:30 p.m., the air unit had to return to Dale County; however, ground units continued the search.

“Luckily, Mr. Smith was found at about 12:42 a.m. in the woods off Bamboo Lane,” Meeks said. “When we asked how he got there, he said he’d gotten lost and was walking around trying to find his way.”

Smith was transported via ambulance to Andalusia Regional Hospital for evaluation and was later released to family.

“Considering the temperature that night was around 22 degrees when we found him, things could have ended differently, but thanks to everyone involved in the search – deputies, posse members, reserve officers, and the helicopter from Dale County – we were able to bring Mr. Smith home,” Meeks said.