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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2006
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Ray LouAllen, center, rests with his son, Mack LouAllen, left, and wife, ClaraNell LouAllen, right, at the search party command post in the Bankhead National Forest on Tuesday morning. Edward Smith found LouAllen, who had been lost in the forest since Friday, at around 7:45 a.m. Tuesday. As a precautionary measure, he was being held overnight at Lawrence Medical Center, where he was treated for mild dehydration and tick bites.
DAILY Photo by Kristen Bishop
Ray LouAllen, center, rests with his son, Mack LouAllen, left, and wife, ClaraNell LouAllen, right, at the search party command post in the Bankhead National Forest on Tuesday morning. Edward Smith found LouAllen, who had been lost in the forest since Friday, at around 7:45 a.m. Tuesday. As a precautionary measure, he was being held overnight at Lawrence Medical Center, where he was treated for mild dehydration and tick bites.

Happy end to Bankhead ordeal
73-year-old found in good shape;
'I just turned around, and I was lost'

By Kristen Bishop
DAILY Staff Writer

kbishop@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

Lawrence County residents celebrated Tuesday after a neighbor found a healthy 73-year-old Ray LouAllen, who had been lost in Bankhead National Forest for nearly four days.

Edward Smith found LouAllen at about 7:45 a.m., resting on the side of Gum Pond Road at Brazel Creek, about 2 miles from LouAllen's truck. Smith, who lives less than a mile from LouAllen's house, was involved in the search over the weekend, but was in the forest to hunt for wild boar Tuesday morning.

"He just stood up in front of me, walked over and asked if I could bring him back to his truck," Smith said. "He was really worried about his keys and said that he had been hanging on to them for days."

LouAllen said he had gotten lost in the forest while exploring hunting sites for wild boar in Jack McDowell Cove, a popular hunting spot.

"I don't know," said LouAllen. "I just turned around, and I was lost."

He left home Friday morning, and when he did not return that evening, his wife, ClaraNell LouAllen, reported him missing.

An extensive search ensued with teams arriving from several agencies in North Alabama. Scent and cadaver dogs, family members and hundreds of volunteers spent days and nights maneuvering through the forest's rough terrain in search of LouAllen. By Monday evening, search teams were covering a two-mile radius around LouAllen's green pickup parked on a private road off Lawrence County 9.

"We just refused to give up until we found him," said Chris LouAllen, Ray LouAllen's 30-year-old grandson.

"We as a family know that if one of us was lost, he wouldn't have given up on us either."

Water from creeks, mudholes

LouAllen survived in the wilderness by drinking water from creeks and mudholes and sleeping in open areas at night. He walked through the forest during the day looking for a path. He said he didn't realize so many people were searching for him.

"I'd hear them (search teams) at night. I thought it was them and then got to thinking it might have been some people partying," LouAllen said.

"It was a party — a search party," said his wife, laughing.

Though searchers encountered poisonous snakes, LouAllen said he didn't have any problems with wildlife.

"I heard some howling from dogs and coyotes, and there was one pig, but I ran him off," he said.

After a couple of days lost in the woods, LouAllen said, he started to worry.

"I just got down and prayed and said, 'Help me out, Lord. Help me through this,' " he said. "And then I found out there were 2,000 more people praying for me. I really appreciate that."

Onlookers were shocked at LouAllen's good health and spirits when he arrived at the search party command post on Lawrence County 9 and Lawrence County 63.

'In better shape than we are'

"He's in better shape than we are," said Sgt. Chris Curtis of the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department. "I was surprised to see him talking, drinking water and laughing immediately."

"Larry Pace (a family member) was joking around and asked him if we wanted to go hog hunting now. He laughed and said he'd already been," said Chris LouAllen, who shares the same birthday, Aug. 2, with his grandfather.

An ambulance took LouAllen to Lawrence Medical Center to be treated for mild dehydration and tick bites. He remained under observation Tuesday night.

"It's mainly just precautionary measures," said Lee Anne Montgomery, chief clinical officer for the Lawrence Medical Center.

Randall LouAllen, Ray LouAllen's cousin and a Lawrence County commissioner, said the family was grateful for the community's support.

"The family is tickled with everyone that stuck with it, all the agencies involved," said Randall LouAllen. "The family just wants to say thank you for the unbelievable support."

Friends and family held a prayer service at Wear Baptist in Moulton on Tuesday to celebrate LouAllen's rescue.

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