Man Missing for Four Days in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve is Found Alive

Dr. Francisco Piedrahita is transferred to waiting ambulance. In the background, left to right, are Rick Mossman, IC, John Hughes, the park’s chief ranger, and search members and ambulance staff. NPS photo by Linda Friar.

Prominent Colombian educator Dr. Francisco Piedrahita was found alive and in fairly good shape after being missing for days in Louisiana's Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

Dr. Piedrahita, president of the University of Icesi in Cali, Colombia, was in New Orleans for a meeting with Tulane University officials when he decided to visit the Bataria Preserve last Saturday. He is a birding enthusiast and considered this natural area a great place to pursue his hobby. Delivered to the site by cab, he headed off alone on the Plantation Trail. When he failed to return after several hours, the cab driver became alarmed and reported him missing.

A search was launched immediately, using helicopters, boats, ATVs, and foot patrols. Rescuers on the ground coped with hot, humid conditions as they combed a 1,900-acre natural area dominated by densely vegetated terrain. Due to the tropical-like conditions, heat-sensing technology proved of little use.

As the search widened, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department established a unified command and the NPS Intermountain All Hazard IMT took over incident management responsibilities for the National Park Service . Agency reports indicate that the NPS search effort was supported by approximately 75 park staff from 12 parks in 12 states as well as the Jefferson and St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Departments, Gulf Coast Search and Rescue, Louisiana Search and Rescue, the National Guard , the Jefferson Parish Fire Department, and the Jean Lafitte Volunteer Fire Department. Several canine search teams assisted.

A Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department helicopter conducting a media overflight spotted the missing man at about 3:00 pm Wednesday. A ground team dispatched to his location found the 65-year old man leaning against a tree approximately 300 yards off a park trail. He was extremely dehydrated, but coherent and in fairly good shape. He was transported to a local hospital after a joyful reunion with his wife and other family members who had been holding vigil in the park.

Officials initially speculated that the missing man became lost after heading off trail to view or photograph birds. The incident remains under investigation.

Comments

Very puzzling story. I hope you will update us as more information emerges about how such an apparently intelligent and methodical person managed to get lost and stay lost for so long in the presence of such an intense search effort. Many more details in the Times-Picayune article here: http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2011/05/colombia_university_president.html