RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – On Thursday, 75-year-old Juan Velasquez was hanging on to life by a thread alone in the Tulare County wilderness, when he was found by his close friends and rescued.
On Monday, after a three-day stay in a Porterville hospital, Velasquez is back at his home in Riverside.
He says it’s a place he thought he’d never get back to.
“The night before I was found, I asked God to help me,” he said in a Spanish conversation translated to English.
His body is riddled with injuries, scrapes, and a broken thumb, but all that matters to him is he is back alongside his family.
A family he didn’t know he would ever see again.
“This experience made me realize I need to concentrate on my family, concentrate on the love I have for my family, God, and my friends,” said Juan.
Velasquez was found by his close friends Ignacio Saldana Jr. and Manuel Ayala Thursday morning, but before that, the 75-year-old spent four days in the wilderness, which he says was anything but easy.
Monday, he showed us the gear he was airlifted in, all covered in dust and soot, his pants showed a massive tear in the rear from when he fell and slid.
The clothes could only say so much about the experience, as the man had no food and survived only off water from a nearby creek.
He was unable to move due to knee and back issues.
In the fight to survive he even had to scare off a bear.
“I shot a bullet about 1 to 2 meters away from the bear. It ran away and never returned,” he said.
Juan, freezing and in need of any way to stay warm, was able to start a fire without any matches or a lighter.
Instead, he took the gunpowder from a bullet and poured it onto his hunting license, before he took the lens out of his rifle scope, which he would use to magnify the sun and ignite the self-made kindling.
“I ignited the fire on Wednesday. I only had fire for a day. The rest of these days I would sleep like this,” Velasquez said as he motioned a shiver.
“I would sleep and shiver all night long.”
That same fire also acted as the signal that led Saldana and Ayala straight to him.
Velasquez says he obtained the skills to survive for so long from growing up hunting and his three years in the Mexican military.
Skills he said were passed on to his would-be saviors.
“I would be a part of military simulations and would be in the wilderness, training and eating out there. I’ve been in the outdoors since I was five or six years old,” said Juan.
The only advice he wanted to pass on from his experience, is to always be in a group when traveling to the wilderness, bring plenty of supplies, and always have a GPS or radio to help you find a way out if needed.