McGrady, N.C. Michael Auberry could hear the adults calling his name and see the helicopters searching for him.
After four days alone in the rugged North Carolina wilderness, though, the 12-year-old Boy Scout was wary Tuesday when crews following a trained dog approached him along a stream.
"They called his name. He didn't respond. ... Once they said 'We're here to rescue you,' the first thing he said is he wanted a helicopter ride out of there," said Blue Ridge Parkway ranger David Bauer.
The dog, named Gandalf, picked up the boy's scent just two hours after he joined more than 100 people in the search, which lasted over three frigid nights.
The dog caught the scent less than a mile from the campsite where Michael had wandered away from his troop Saturday. Searchers had found his mess kit within a mile of the campsite a few hours after he disappeared but had seen no sign of him since.
On a steep trail, the black 2-year-old Shiloh shepherd "popped his head three times," said handler Misha Marshall - and there was Michael. Searchers spotted him before he saw them.
"He was a little dazed," said Marshall.
Michael's disappearance had touched off an intensive search involving bloodhounds, heat-seeking helicopters and dozens of volunteers on foot. The boy's father speculated Tuesday his son was upset that some friends hadn't been able to come on the weekend camping trip and wanted to hitchhike home.
"He's very tired. He's very dehydrated. But he came through this in unbelievable fashion," said Kent Auberry.
It was not immediately clear just how the boy survived or whether he put any of his Scout wilderness training to use.
A few hours after an emotional reunion, Kent Auberry said he still didn't know much about his son's ordeal, mostly because he decided not to ask too many questions.
"What he tells us is he was on the move," Auberry said. "He slept in tree branches. He curled up under rocks."