Almost four months ago, Raul Fernando Gómez Cincunegui set off from Chile on his motorbike. He was heading home to Bella Union in Uruguay’s north after meeting up with fellow riders on the other side of the Andes, but when the bike broke down on May 11, he sent his family a message saying he would try and complete the journey on foot.
And that is the last anyone saw of Raul Gomez until Sunday, Sept. 8, when an Argentine helicopter crew discovered the 58-year-old plumber at a mountain refuge more than 9,000ft above sea level. He was emaciated and dehydrated but otherwise well.
Helicopter pilot Walter Gallardo told reporters that Gomez had managed to attract the attention of himself and two state water experts who were high in the mountains to measure snow levels. “He was very happy,” Gallardo said. “He was hungry and had been very anxious, but he was fine.”
The helicopter team took Mr. Gomez to a hospital in San Juan, Argentina, where he told an amazing story. After becoming disoriented and then lost in a snowstorm, he had survived his ordeal by fashioning a rat trap and eating the catch, along with sugar and raisins he’d found in the refuge. Although he had lost more than 40 pounds and was severely dehydrated, doctors reported no long-term effects were likely as a result of his unusual three-month diet.
Gomez was reported missing on May 19, but Argentine authorities were not informed until the end of June. By then, wintery conditions made search and rescue attempts almost impossible. “The truth is that this is a miracle. We still can’t believe it,” San Juan Governor Jose Luis Gioja told local press.
As soon as news of his rescue broke, his wife and two daughters rushed to the San Juan intensive care unit, while in Bella Union, the aging mother of Raul Gomez thanked “God and the Virgin my son appeared and is alive.” Why had he tried to walk across the Andes from Chile? “Because he’s brave and daring,” Irma Cincunegui said of her son. “Every vacation he would grab his motorcycle and take off on an adventure.”
However, it appears that an undaunted spirit may not have been the only reason that Gomez attempted such a hazardous journey out of Chile. Chilean authorities, now aware of the man’s reappearance, have said that Gomez is currently wanted in Santiago on child sex abuse charges. Officials from the prosecutor’s office in the nation’s capital told Associated Press that a warrant was issued for his arrest on April 22, about two weeks prior to his departure.
According to the BBC, Gomez was facing charges relating to the alleged abuse of an 8-year-old boy and had been ordered not to leave the country. Interpol has since issued an extradition order for the “Andes rat-man” and once he is well enough to travel – sometime within the next month – he will be returned to Chile.
Irma Cincunegui refuses to believe the allegations, saying that “Raul is a good, hard-working man. Everybody knows him in Bella Union, where he never had troubles with anybody.” Nevertheless, those like Governor Gioja and Mrs. Cincunegui who see a divine hand in the rescue of Raul Gomez may want to concede that, sometimes, He works in mysterious ways.