Robert Varnado, a 42-year-old hunter missing in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area since Thursday, was found Tuesday — hungry and dehydrated but alive, according to St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain.
Varnado, of Mississippi, was found by sheriff’s deputies traveling down the West Pearl River by boat. He had made his way to the river bank and was spotted there .
Varnado and a friend, Jason Rosier, went into the Pearl River WMA on Thursday to scout for signs of hogs, which they hoped to hunt at a later time. The pair split up in the morning and were planning to meet back later at their camp, Strain said.
However, heavy storms moved into the area Thursday, and the rising water prevented Varnado from retracing his steps to the camp. He spent the next five days trying to find his way out of the swamp, Strain said.
Rosier became worried when he didn’t hear from Varnado by Saturday and reported him missing.
Varnado had nothing to eat and only rain and river water to drink during his days in the swamp, Strain said.
After he was found, medical personnel checked Varnado out and released him. A deputy gave him a fast-food meal and some water, Strain said.
Sheriff’s deputies and agents from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries had scoured the swamp since Saturday, searching on foot and by ATVs, boats and amphibious vehicles. Dogs assisted in the search as well.
Throughout the search, Strain expressed optimism that Varnado, an experienced hunter, would be found alive.
“The nights are still chilly, but anyone with survival training can mitigate that,” he said.
In the meantime, Rosier was arrested Monday when he met with deputies about Varnado. Rosier was allegedly carrying a gun at the time, and as a convicted felon, he was taken into custody. He remains in the St. Tammany Parish jail.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.