March 06--Joel Paul, a 44-year-old firefighter who owns his own construction business in Warwick, Mass., said he wasn't sure what to make of the odd tracks the boy left as he walked, fatigued, through the snow in heavy ski boots.
"When I first saw the footprints, it almost looked like a wounded animal," Paul said in an interview Wednesday. "There were long drag marks in the snow. He was really dragging his feet and kind of wobbling back and forth on the trail."
Paul had been out for about 90 minutes when he happened across the tracks. Unsure of what they might mean, he followed them for a half-mile in five minutes, looking all the time for evidence of Joy in the surrounding woods. Then he rounded a bend and saw Joy about 300 feet away, walking away from him. When Joy heard the snowmobile, he turned around.
"Nicholas waved me down," Paul said. "I said, 'Are you the skier that they're looking for?' He said, 'Yeah, I've been out for two nights.' I said, 'There's a lot of people looking for you.'"
Paul said Joy, 17, of Medford, Mass., was happy to be rescued, but subdued by the ordeal. Joy got lost on the back side of Sugarloaf Mountain Sunday afternoon after skiing with his father.
"He was extremely tired, really hungry, and cold," Paul said.
Paul said he gave Joy all the food he had -- an individual package of crackers and a small pack of peanuts -- and also gave him his gloves, because Joy's were frozen.
Paul dialed 911 to let them know that he had found Joy. A dispatcher connected him with the search command post, and Paul agreed to take Joy four miles down Caribou Pond Road to Route 27, where a crowd of rescue workers awaited. Joy was taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, where he stayed overnight and was discharged Wednesday morning.
Before he was found, Joy had at times wandered in circles and walked upstream once, according to Paul.
"He told me he had tried to light a fire but it didn't work," Paul said. "I don't know if he tried rubbing two sticks together, or what."
Paul said he was spending a few days at his family camp in nearby Salem when he heard about the search on the news and decided to join in.
As a fire captain, Paul had trained for and participated in four successful searches in the heavily forested Warwick area. But for Paul, the search for Joy "ranks probably the highest just because of the duration he was out there."
"To get him back to his family is a tremendous thing. I've got a 13-year-old boy, so it's really gratifying," Paul said.
Paul said he had intimate knowledge of the area, having fished and hiked there more than 50 times since he was a boy, often with his grandfather.
He said when he joined the search independently, he thought he would stumble across other searchers, but instead he found Joy.
"My chief would probably slap me in the head for going off on my own," he said.
Paul said that even though he wasn't part of the group of searchers looking for Joy, he still considered it to be a group effort in which everyone deserved equal credit for the happy outcome.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287
Staff writer Amy Calder contributed to this report.
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