Santee hiker shares survival story after Joshua Tree fall

Posted at 1:03 PM, Mar 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-19 16:12:22-04

(KGTV and KESQ) - The Santee attorney who was rescued after a fall in Joshua Tree National Park is speaking about the experience.

Paul Hanks drove to the park to hike on his 54th birthday last week. He had intended to spend half a day ‘bouldering’ before returning home.

Hanks’ plans took a painful turn when he slipped and fell about 20 feet, injuring his leg.

“It happened. I slipped and it was just, having not slipped in 45 years, it was instant and total shock,” Hanks said.

RELATED: Family details how hiker stayed alive in Joshua Tree

Hanks crawled for miles, yelling for help. Eventually he settled under a Joshua Tree for the night, hoping he could throw some loose dirt on himself for warmth. Hanks quickly ran out of food and supplies.

“By the very first night, I was drinking my own urine. I had drank all of the water in my bottle and was refilling my bottle with my own urine.”

Hanks said the decision saved his life. He later found rainwater to drink and ate a cactus.

“It gave me some physical energy and it gave me some hope and it made me believe this is giving me the 24 hours I'm looking for,” said Hanks.

On Hanks’ fifth day in the park, search and rescue teams found him.

“These three angels appeared out of nowhere and I was... I was shocked,” Hanks said. “I just couldn't believe it. I didn't want to say I had given up. Multiple times I had written myself off as dead. That I was never going to see another human being again and they showed up.”

The rescue team gave Hanks Gatorade and took him to safety. 

Hanks is being treated at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. Family members say he’ll have several surgeries for fractures on his leg, heel, forehead and pelvis. Hanks is expected to make a full recovery.