La Mesa attorney Paul Hanks, 54, set out to celebrate his birthday with a hike in Joshua Tree National Park. Clad only in shorts and a T-shirt, Hanks took just a couple of energy packs and a few hours’ worth of water with him on his March 11 hike.
Hanks describes himself as an experienced hiker who had been to Joshua Tree several times. But while bouldering, or “rock hopping,” he fell about 20 feet and shattered his left heel and broke his pelvis.
“It happened. I slipped,” he said from his hospital bed at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. “And it was just, having not slipped in 45 years, it was instant and total shock.”
He yelled for help, but he was alone in the expansive desert. When night fell, and the temperature dropped, he sought shelter under a Joshua tree to sleep, hoping the ground around it would be a little softer and that he could throw some of the loose dirt on himself to keep warm.
By then, Hanks had run out of water.
“By the very first night, I was drinking my own urine,” he said. “I had drunk all of the water in my bottle, and was refilling my bottle with my own urine.”
Hanks later fell a second time, about 15 feet, and hit his head. He ate cactus for food. He was in and out of consciousness, but he refused to give up.
“To quit out there is basically a death sentence,” he said.
On day five, he thought he was dreaming when he heard voices. They belonged to a search and rescue crew that had found him last Thursday.
“These three angels appeared out of nowhere, and I was shocked. I, I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I don’t want to say I had given up. But multiple times, I had written myself off as dead, that I was never going to see another human being again.”
Hanks has since been reunited with his family. He has undergone at least one surgery, and it won’t be the last, but he is expected to make a full recovery.