CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Nicholas Joy’s tracks in the snow showed how exhausted he was after two nights in the woods, said Joseph Paul, the man who found the missing skier Tuesday morning.
Paul said he wasn’t sure what to make of the tracks that he saw as he rode his snowmobile.
“When I first saw the footprints, it almost looked like a wounded animal,” he 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, who had heard news reports about the teenager’s disappearance from the nearby Sugarloaf ski area Sunday, had been out on his snowmobile for about 90 minutes Tuesday morning when he happened across the tracks.
Unsure 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. He then 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, was happy to be rescued, but subdued by the ordeal. “He was extremely tired, really hungry, and cold.”
Paul said he gave Joy all of the food he had — an individual package of crackers and a small pack of peanuts — and gave him his gloves, because Joy’s were frozen.
Paul dialed 911 to let authorities 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, a high school senior from Medford, Mass., was taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, where he stayed overnight and was released Wednesday morning.
He got home in the afternoon and didn’t speak to reporters outside his home, which was decorated with balloons and a banner, according to The Associated Press.
His mother, Donna Joy, said he was feeling well and “in a good frame of mind,” relieved to be home, but he wasn’t ready to speak to the media.
She said the family is thankful for supporters’ thoughts and prayers, and she called Paul an “angel.”
Joy got lost on the back side of Sugarloaf Mountain on Sunday afternoon after skiing with his father. While he was lost, he wandered in circles at times, 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, a 44-year-old firefighter who owns his own construction business in Warwick, Mass., said he was spending a few days at his family’s camp in nearby Salem when he heard about the search on the news and decided to join it.
As a fire captain, Paul had participated in four successful searches in the heavily forested Warwick area. He said that finding 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 knows the area intimately, having fished and hiked there more than 50 times since he was a boy, often with his grandfather.
He said that when he joined the search by himself Tuesday, he thought he would stumble across other searchers. Instead, he found Joy.
“My chief would probably slap me in the head for going off on my own,” he said.
Even though he wasn’t part of the group of more than 80 searchers, Paul said, he considered the rescue a group effort.
Sugarloaf’s staff, along with the Maine Warden Service, spent Wednesday retracing Joy’s movements.
Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin said the staff will determine whether it needs to change any trail signs to make the ski area’s boundaries more easily understood.
– Morning Sentinel Staff Writers Amy Calder and Kaitlin Schroeder contributed to this report
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at: