Remer man survives 20-foot fall from tree stand

During the long, cold nights, Larry Mackey sang. He sang because he was afraid to fall asleep and become hypothermic. He didn't want to die, lying there on the ground below his bear-hunting stand with a broken hip and a broken pelvis. So he sang ...

During the long, cold nights, Larry Mackey sang.

He sang because he was afraid to fall asleep and become hypothermic.

He didn't want to die, lying there on the ground below his bear-hunting stand with a broken hip and a broken pelvis.

So he sang to himself and talked to himself and kept flexing his muscles to generate heat.

It worked.


Mackey, 62, survived five nights in the woods near Remer without food or water after a 20-foot fall from a tree stand about a mile from his home on the evening of Sept. 10. He wasn't found until the morning of Sept. 15.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures dropped to freezing or below on three of the nights that Mackey lay on the ground, immobilized by his injuries.

He had company. A sow and two bear cubs came near him on two different nights, Mackey said Friday from his bed at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth. They fed within 30 feet of him one night at the bait he had put out. A pack of wolves passed near him another night; he could hear the pups yipping. Raccoons fought over the bear bait.

Mackey, who lives alone southeast of Remer, eventually was found by his grandson, 25-year-old Lucas Baynes, who had come up from Mankato, Minn., to hunt with his grandfather.

Mackey, a retired bank employee, was transferred by ambulance to Duluth the day he was found. He underwent surgery for his broken hip and pelvis on Sunday. He remains in St. Luke's hospital, and his prognosis for a good recovery is excellent, said Dr. William Schnell, a surgeon with Orthopaedic Associates of Duluth.

"He's probably going to need a new hip later in life. His pelvis is going to heal up," Schnell said.

Mackey was lucky that his grandson found him when he did, the surgeon said.

"If his grandson hadn't come, he would have died," Schnell said.


Five days is a long time to lie alone in the woods with serious injuries.

"Normally when you have this kind of injury, and you have no food, no water -- often the kidneys quit working," Schnell said. "And he'd lost a fair amount of blood internally."

Not everyone in that situation would have made it. "He's one in a million," Schnell said.

It's rare that a person who is injured or lost in the woods goes unfound for five days, said Tom Crossmon , captain of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Rescue Squad.

"I can think of only one or two cases in the last 10 years," he said.

broken bone grating

Mackey, an experienced hunter and woodsman, was hunting from a portable tree stand about 20 feet above the ground when the accident occurred. As he attempted to climb down, his cuff caught on the homemade ladder he had used to reach his stand.

"I don't remember hitting the ground," Mackey said. "I must have passed out."


When he regained consciousness two hours later, it was "pitch-black and raining," he said. When he tried to move, Mackey could hear his broken femur grating. He broke the femur near the hip joint, Schnell said.

Mackey was able to pull himself about 6 feet that night to a comfortable resting place. The next morning, he tried to crawl to his four-wheeler but made it only 10 feet.

"I was just exhausted," he said. "I realized at that point I wasn't going to crawl out of there."

Mackey lives alone and hadn't told anyone where he was going. He knew nobody would miss him until at least Friday, when his grandson was coming up to hunt with him.

Mackey tried to busy himself with small tasks to pass the days and nights. He prayed. He carved several toothpicks with his knife. He cut the roots beneath him with his knife to make a more comfortable bed.

Mackey was lightly dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but he did have a lined duck-hunting jacket on. He scraped grass and leaves to cover his legs at night, and he pulled his jacket hood over his face to create a small cocoon. He had no water and no food but said that after a day or so, he was no longer hungry.

A portion of his intestine became dysfunctional during the ordeal, and he underwent colon surgery Tuesday -- two days after his orthopedic surgery.

At night, Mackey sang, though he admitted his repertoire was limited.


"I don't know complete lyrics to a lot of songs, so it was a lot of 'dah, dah-dah, dah-dah,' " he said.

Mackey had five bullets left in his rifle, a Browning .270 BAR. He fired three of them as an SOS signal. He fired two others when he heard people in the woods, presumably building deer stands. But no one ever came.

Mackey was in pain for the five days he lay in the woods.

"A lot of pain," he said, touching his left leg. "This hip was horrible."

'A wonderful feeling'

Baynes drove up to Remer late the night of Sept. 14 but didn't want to bother Mackey so he slept in the garage. When he couldn't find his grandfather or his grandfather's four-wheeler the next morning, Baynes started to worry.

"I was thinking something was wrong, he must have got hurt," he recalled.

Since it was bear season, Baynes got on his four-wheeler and started checking his grandfather's bait stations. He found nothing at the first four.


"The last one I checked, I saw his four-wheeler so I knew he must be down there. That's when I got really worried,'' he said.

Then he heard his grandfather yell his name.

"When I first started talking to him, he seemed OK," Baynes said. "He said, 'Yeah, I'm fine, but I broke my hip.' "

When Mackey said he couldn't move, Baynes took off his own winter hunting jacket to cover him.

"I asked him how long he'd been there and he said since Monday night," the grandson said. "I couldn't believe it. I said 'You've got to be kidding me.' "

As Baynes headed back to call an ambulance, his grandfather had one request: "Bring me back one of my Lipton iced teas."

Mackey said his grandson found him sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m.

"It was a wonderful feeling, I can tell you that," Mackey said.


"Thank God he was alive, especially when he said he was there for five days," Baynes said. "He's really lucky. He's a tough guy."

When he arrived at St. Luke's on Sept. 15, Mackey still had not eaten anything. After Schnell decided to postpone surgery until Sunday morning, Mackey asked for something to eat. Schnell bought him a sandwich and two cans of pop.

"It wasn't anything elegant, but it sure tasted good," Mackey said.

And he plans to continue hunting.

"Oh, yeah," Mackey said without hesitation. "But I might not climb that kind of stand again. And I'm definitely going to acquire a cell phone with GPS service."

His mother, Gladys Mackey, 85, of Buffalo, Minn., visited her son at St. Luke's on Friday. Though she offered a lot of prayers for him after she learned what he had been through, she's pretty sure she knows why he survived.

"He's Norwegian," she said.

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