What happened? Man survived 68 days stuck in snow before dying

What happened? Man survived 68 days stuck in snow before dying
Jerry McDonald - DMV Photo.

NEAR MARION FORKS, Ore. - Linn County Sheriff's deputies are working to find out how a 68-year-old man got stuck on a forest road in Oregon and survived for 68 days before passing away.

Deputies say a road crew found the remains of Jerry McDonald with his off-road capable vehicle on Forest Service road 517, about three miles from Highway 22. Officials say an autopsy indicates that he died of starvation and hypothermia.

Investigators think McDonald, who they describe as a transient estranged from his family, drove his 1997 GMC pickup up the forest road on Feb. 7 to go camping but got stuck on Feb. 14 after heavy snow fell.

McDonald created a rudimentary calendar and tracked his activities until April 15. He was found deceased in a sleeping bag in the back of the truck. He had no GPS, cell phone, compass or other communication equipment.

The pickup had chains on all four wheels and there was fuel in the vehicle when it was found. McDonald also had cold weather gear with him and made fires in a fire pit. Plentiful snow meant he had plenty of water to drink. No food was found at the site.

McDonald also apparently attempted to get his vehicle moving again using a jack and rocks. He apparently made no effort to walk out of the situation, even though Highway 22 was just a few miles away.

According to Sheriff Mueller, “McDonald is a transient with a car who decided to go camping on Feb. 7 and was stranded by a snowstorm.” 

An investigation is continuing. Read a full press release below the photo.

Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller reports that his detectives are investigating the death of a man who was stranded in a remote mountain area for nearly 70 days after his vehicle had become stuck in the snow in February.

A U.S. Forest Service crew surveying roads discovered the deceased man Thursday morning on Forest Service Road 517, about 3 miles from Highway 22 and about 4 miles from Marion Forks. The body was found in a sleeping bag in the back of a 1997 GMC pickup with a canopy. There are no signs of foul play. Over $5,000 in cash was found in the vehicle.

The deceased man has been identified through fingerprints as Jerry William McDonald, age 68. He did not have a permanent home but the address on his vehicle registration was listed as being Unity, Oregon.

Mr. McDonald, who detectives determined was estranged from his family, had not been reported missing.

Evidence indicates Mr. McDonald's pickup had become stuck in the snow. He had apparently tried to get it out by using a jack and placing rocks under the tires for traction. The pickup was drivable, had about a quarter of a tank of gas and had tire chains on all four tires.

Mr. McDonald had built a small fire, and had clothing appropriate for the cold weather. He also had water, which he was collecting in buckets, and extra fuel for the pickup. Detectives did not find any food with the vehicle or any equipment such as a GPS, cell phone or compass.

A homemade calendar found in the vehicle indicates he had arrived in the area on February 7, probably to camp, but may have become snowed in on February 14. He had been using the calendar as a journal and recorded where he was, what he was doing and the weather conditions.

Mr. McDonald's journal entry for March 2 reads "Trapped, snowed in on 14th." His final entry, merely indicating how long he'd been there, was made on April 15, 68 days since his first entry on February 7.

The road Mr. McDonald was on is in a mountainous area of east Linn County and the way in or out would have been impassable once it snowed. There were no indications that he had attempted to walk out of the area.

The body was taken AAsum-Dufour Funeral Home in Albany. An autopsy is scheduled for a later time.

The Linn County Sheriff's Office was assisted by U.S. Forest Serve Law Enforcement Officers, the Oregon State Police identification bureau, and the West Linn Police Department, which helped with family notification.