MARRERO, LA – The president of a prestigious university in Colombia was found dehydrated, disoriented and covered in bug bites but otherwise in good condition five days after he went missing while on a short trip to photograph birds in Jean Lafitte National Park.
"It's a very happy ending," said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.
Dr. Francisco Piedrahita was located by a Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office helicopter, standing under a tree with a camera around his neck, about 200 yards off the Wood Duck trail.
The helicopter alerted ground crews, which then located Piedrahita, who said he survived by eating foliage and dipping swamp water.
Linda Friar, a spokesperson for the National Park Service said Piedrahita appeared to be in good condition, but was dehydrated. He was taken to West Jefferson Hospital where officials said he was "covered in bug bites and his legs were blackened from standing in swamp water for so long." They said otherwise he was okay.
Sheriff Normand said a bird lover had told deputies about an area where he had seen a birds of the type that Piedrahita had been trying to get pictures of. Normand said a helicopter was dispatched to that area and that's when they found him.
A massive search had been on for Dr. Francisco Piedrahita since he went missing Saturday after being dropped off by a cab driver at Jean Lafitte as he went to take pictures of birds.
"It's nice to have a little luck," said Normand. "We had been back there a hundred times or so and hadn't seen anything."
Teams of rescuers including dogs and National Guardsmen combed the area for days before discovering Piedrahita Wednesday shortly after noon.
“As he approached the ambulance in the back of the ATV,” said Normand, “his wife was there. He blew her a kiss. She blew him one. Obiviously a lot of love in the eyes and he said, he was ‘perfecto.’”
Piedrahita's family had flown to New Orleans to be part of the search and his son Esteban was emotional this morning as the search entered its fifth day.
Both the family and the rescuers maintained that he could still have survived during this length of time and even though a Jean Lafitte Park spokesperson said it was very unusual for someone to be gone that long, they have had instances at other parks where someone surfaced after being missing for days.
A chaplain for the family said the family was losing hope by Wednesday morning, after Piedrahita had been missing for nearly 96 hours in the park and they prayed that God would reveal Dr. Piedrahita's location.
Fifteen minutes later he was found. The chaplian said the university president was disoriented, but gave a "thumbs up" before heading to the hospital and did recognize his family.
“He took good notes and he had a strategy,” said his son Estban Piedrahita on his father survived. “He knew what to do.”
“Now I am going to call him Mr. Rambo,” said Marisa Uribe, his sister-in-law, “because for me it is unbelievable that he is alive."
The intense interest in the search for Dr. Piedrahita can be illustrated in the following of Jill Hezeau's Twitter account. She added nearly 1,000 followers from Colombia and following the news that he was found, her account was full of activity with the respondents ecstatic at the news.
"Just received an email from my friend Dra. Paz at the @icesi and they are crying tears of joy!," said one Tweet.
Dr. Piedrahita is the president of Universidad Icesi.