OREM Utah Valley State College freshman Eric Sabin feared the worst when he first heard two missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one of whom is his good friend had gone missing Monday on the French Caribbean island of Martinique.
"I thought first off they might have been kidnapped," he said.
According to local authorities, Elders Thomas Levi Swain, 21, and Tyson Delmar Gray, 19, disappeared while hiking on Mount Pelee. Though Sabin initially thought the two were kidnapped, he later thought up a more plausible scenario based on his friend Swain's passion: photography.
"That was always his favorite thing to do," he said. "They must have wandered off the path and got lost."
Local farmers confirmed Sabin's deduction when they found the two elders safe on the mountain, the LDS Church said Thursday morning.
"The elders had been hiking Mount Pelee on Monday afternoon and became disoriented and trapped in the dense foliage by difficult terrain," the church said in a statement. "Both elders are doing well and intend to continue their missions on the island."
Martinique police said the two men told officers they could hear search helicopters but couldn't find a clearing in the dense vegetation to signal to them.
Swain, who is a British citizen from New Zealand, has been serving his mission for the past 18 months. Gray, a native of Taylorsville, has been there since November. The elders were described as weak from a lack of food but otherwise healthy.
When the elders went missing, local police, church members and missionaries swept through the canyons and mountains where they were last seen, Sabin said. For two days, he networked with FaceBook friends and called local LDS members who had family members participating in the search.
Through his contacts, Sabin learned searchers found the elders' car at a parking lot at the base of the mount, but there was no sign of the pair. In his quest for good news, Sabin postponed an English paper that was due at the end of the week.
As the days passed, he began to doubt whether the search would have a happy ending.
"I sort of had thoughts they couldn't survive another night," he said. "That's why I was up at 3 in the morning watching French news."
Early Thursday morning, Sabin received an e-mail from one of his friends stating Swain and Gray were found.
"It's a relief to know they are safe," he said.
Sabin is familiar with the type of terrain the elders had to survive over their three-day ordeal. He also understands how easy it would be to get lost in the jungle because the thick brush and constant fogs only allow visibility of about 100 feet. Temperatures could reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and taper off to 60 degrees at night time. That may not sound bad, Sabin said, but the humidity exacerbates conditions.
"It feels like it's almost raining," he said.
Sabin also said church members who participated in the search told him that Swain and Gray survived by eating fruit from trees and drinking water from the streams they came across.
He said he's glad they were found and that they plan to finish out their missions on the island, but he thinks their off-day excursion was ill-advised."I wouldn't have gone and hiked it," he said. "It was a bad mistake; they wandered off and got lost.
Contributing: Associated PressBR/>