BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A story of remarkable human endurance in the snow-covered Andes has taken a somber turn.
Authorities said Monday that a plumber from Uruguay who survived through the winter after disappearing along Chile’s high-altitude border with Argentina was fleeing from the law.
An emaciated Raul Gomez was rescued Sunday by an Argentine helicopter crew and was recovering in a hospital more than four months after he was last heard from.
Repeated search efforts had been called off due to bad weather after failing to turn up any sign of him amid the snow-covered peaks.
It wasn’t clear at first why a 58-year-old motorcyclist with no apparent mountaineering experience was so determined to walk across the Chilean frontier. Gomez had traveled to Argentina and then Chile to meet up with other motorcyclists.
Gomez told people in the hospital that he decided to cross back over on foot in May after his motorcycle broke down.
An official in the Chilean prosecutor’s office in Santiago confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that Gomez is wanted in Chile’s capital for investigation of child sex abuse allegations. A warrant was issued for his arrest on April 22, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity per office policy.
In Gomez’s hometown of Bella Union, Uruguay, the man’s mother, Irma Cincunegui, told the AP she doesn’t believe the allegations.
“Raul is a good, hard-working man,” she said. “Everybody knows him in Bella Union, where he never had troubles with anybody.”
Gomez was finally discovered on Sunday at the Ingeniero Sardina refuge, a small cabin 14,760 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level, by a pilot and two state water experts who had flown up to measure snow levels. He told them he took shelter in the refuge after getting disoriented by the Southern Hemisphere’s winter snowstorms.
He had been carrying a small amount of food, and said he ate other meager supplies that mountaineers had left in the refuge. When that ran out, he told his rescuers, he survived by capturing small animals.
“He lost 20 kilos (45 pounds). He apparently fed himself with mice and an owl or two,” Hospital Rawson spokesman Rodrigo Belert told the AP.
On Monday, Gomez was joined by his two daughters and wife in the intensive care unit of the hospital in San Juan province.
“He’s recuperating well and shows no sign of serious organ damage, but he’s recovering from very severe malnutrition,” Belert said.
The Chilean attorney general’s office must now consider whether to seek his extradition once he’s healthy enough to travel again.
Belert said hospital authorities had not received any communications from the Chilean government.
“The patient could get released shortly, but we’re waiting to see if some official information arrives,” Belert said.
Ignacio Capandeguy, Uruguay’s consul in Argentina’s Cordoba province, also told the AP that he hadn’t seen any official information from Chile and that Uruguayan authorities are focused on the man’s health.
Gomez’s mother called her son “a warrior,” and said she “always thought that he was alive.”
Why did he risk crossing such a high-altitude frontier with winter coming and hardly any equipment or supplies?
“Because he’s brave, and daring,” she said. “Every vacation he would grab his motorcycle and take off on an adventure. Once he took his wife on the bike to Chile, but she said she would never make one of those trips again.”
Gomez was called an “excellent companion” by a co-worker, Elias Acosta, at the state water treatment plant in Bella Union. “We’re very happy that they found him.”
Associated Press writers Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile, and Leonardo Haberkorn in Montevideo, Uruguay, contributed to this report.