chile forest 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy of www.visit-chile.com)
"When we were spotted by the helicopter, it was the happiest moment," said Gal Idan, one of the three Israeli hikers who were rescued late Sunday night after going missing in Chile last week.
Idan, Nimrod Vered and Lior Rozen were found in a narrow creek in one of the country's huge national parks just as efforts to widen the search were set to begin.
Last week, the Israelis began a trek close to the city of Osserano. Local authorities near Puyehue National Park, where the hikers were last seen, were limited by snowy weather on Saturday to a three-hour search with only one helicopter.
In an interview with Army Radio, Idan recalled the difficult terrain and increasingly worsening conditions the three had had to cope with: "Some moments were really tough. More than once we reached precipices of four or five meters. Lior fell four or five meters, and later Nimrod also fell. On the last day, we found leeches on our bodies."
Idan said they'd had "one hell of a diet," calculating their food rations severely: "We rationed food supplies of four days to last us around two and a half weeks. We each ate one cup of cold pasta a day and had cold soup because our gas burner didn't work."
The Israeli consul in Santiago had "received indications that other travelers saw the missing Israelis on the trail within the first three days of their hike [six days ago]," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Yael Ravia-Zadok told The Jerusalem Post earlier Sunday. Their trek should not have taken more than five days, but none of the missing hikers had been in contact with friends or family for nine days.
According to Ravia-Zadok, intensified aerial searches including three helicopters - one belonging to the local authorities, one private, and one owned by an Israeli insurance company - were carried out on Sunday. In coordination with the helicopter searches, volunteers on the ground combed the park. Volunteer teams were comprised of people from the area, as well as Israeli travelers.
Ravia-Zadok said the Foreign Ministry's department for Israelis abroad had been in constant contact with the hikers' families in Israel. Idan said the hikers never lost faith in their families: "We had no doubt we will be rescued. I knew our families were taking care of us."
Summing up the experience, Idan said, "I would not recommend it, but it was an amazing experience. It really makes you small and gives new meaning to your life. I love Israel more and I love Nimrod and Lior more. Every minute will have new meaning from now on."