Felipe Bravo, a young Chilean tourist, made headlines this week when he became lost while undertaking a solo outing in the highlands of the second largest of the Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz. After a frantic and well organized search, commanded by the National Park’s experts, Police, Military, Naval and expert Rescue teams; he was found alive, five days later, this Saturday and is currently on stable conditions, being evaluated and treated for moderate dehydration and minor bruises and feet blisters, by a medical team at Santa Cruz’ “Republic of Ecuador” Hospital.
The story began early this week when the 31-year old Chilean, who loved adventure and nature hikes, parted from the occasional friends with whom he was travelling in the famous Galapagos Islands and asked to be left at one of the visitor’s sites in the lush highlands of Santa Cruz Islands. He had experience in solo expeditions and was aiming to reach the two higher summits of the large island, Mount Crocker and El Puntudo, both of which rise amidst dense forests covered with thick vegetation and irregular lava terrain. While there are marked trails, visitors are strongly recommended to undertake such walks in the company of licensed guides or park rangers. However, Felipe chose to do it on his own, trusting his expertise.
His adventure was disrupted when dense fog moved into the highland zone of the island, which led him to stray away from the trails and to become totally lost. As soon as his disappearance was reported by his acquaintances, the local authorities rapidly summoned on the Emergency Operations Committee and launched an intense search of the young visitor, following the tips given by those who saw him before going on his solitary expedition. The Galapagos National Park commanded the operation in close coordination with members of specialized elite Police rescue teams; the Military and the Navy which kept two coast guard vessels patrolling the east and west coasts of the near one thousand square kilometers island of Santa Cruz, in the likely case that he might attempt to reach one of the coastal areas to facilitate his sighting. Trained rescue dogs, more than seventy persons and one helicopter participated in one of the biggest rescue effort undertaken in the islands. The search teams worked on journeys of 16 hour per day, following a technically designed plan to track the lost voyager.
On the initial days of the search, evidences of his presence were found: an airline ticket with his name and later an iPhone, which led the search parties to get closer to him. However, adverse climatic conditions and the rough conditions of the terrain made it quite difficult to get to him sooner. Evidently, he was moving along, trying to reach a coastal area where he could be seen. A special camp, fully equipped, was mounted at a strategic location to serve as the base for the searching teams.
Finally, at 8:00 am of this Saturday, a party of three National Park rangers; one police member and a specialized rescue member of the local fire department, found Felipe, after they mutually responded to loud shouting calls. He had survived on local fruits which grow wild in the area and devised a straw out of a writing pen, with which he extracted the juice of cacti which were previously crushed with stones. Felipe was found very weak, standing near some native trees and he had to be assisted to lie down while arrangements were made to air-lift him to the hospital in Puerto Ayora, the island’s capital city and main human hub in the Archipelago, where the Galapagos National Park’s Headquarters are located.
According with the rescue team which found him, he had registered his adventure on several pieces of paper and he knew that he was being searched for, so he did his share to collaborate with his own rescue. In the meantime, Felipe’s mother flew from Chile to Puerto Ayora to follow the operation, until she reunited with her son as he was being ushered into the Hospital. The lady thanked the Ecuadorian authorities for the diligence and efficiency which led to Felipe’s rescue. The Galapagos authorities demonstrated organization, coordination, solidarity and rapid response to a crisis situation, which delivered a happy end to what could have been a tragic situation, due to the harsh conditions of the area and the enormous surface of the mostly uninhabited island. In concluding the successful operation, the National Park and other local authorities, emphasized on the main lesson of this experience: not to undertake solitary hikes and always seek the company of licensed, trained and experienced persons.