PARADISE PARK, Uintah County — Instead of panicking when he was separated from his family in the High Uintas, 10-year-old Malachi Bradley immediately began trying to keep himself fed, hydrated and close to a fire.
After spending parts of Sunday fishing for food and using his jacket as a water filter, the young boy tried his hand at a makeshift shelter to shield him from the elements when nightfall came.
"There’s just a ton of giant rocks, so I hid between four of them so the wind wouldn’t hit me too much," Malachi told reporters shortly after he was found safe Monday afternoon following a nearly 29-hour search and was reunited with family members to cheers of joy.
Malachi didn't sleep much overnight Monday because of that cold wind.
"I had to keep switching positions because the wind kept switching," he said.
But Malachi endured the night without harm and was reunited with his loved ones about 3 p.m. after he was spotted from the air by searchers in a helicopter. Rescuers said he was in good condition, but was cold and hungry.
"He seems unfazed by it, he’s in good condition. He’s a little hungry but he’s been checked out by medical crews and they say he looks good," said Uintah County Sheriff’s Cpl. Brian Fletcher just moments after the boy and his family were brought together.
The Lehi boy had been camping near Paul Lake near the Paradise Park Campground with his dad and siblings. He had been fishing with his dad when he went to look for wild mushrooms about 10:30 a.m. Sunday, according to police.
Malachi was found more than five miles from where family members last saw him, Uintah County Sheriff Vance Norton said. A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter and ATVs were used to search the rugged area, along with search crews from the Uintah County and Wasatch County sheriff's offices as well as the Ute Indian Tribe. Scores of volunteers also helped, police said. A sniffing dog eventually showed signs the boy might be close, and a search helicopter was notified of the location.
"We tried to think like a 10-year-old would," Norton said, referring to the strategy of the search.
Malachi's family members were all smiles and some let out tears of joy as they surrounded him for a group hug upon his return.
"It definitely made the list of my favorite moments of all time," said Molly Chrisman, Malachi's mother. "It was so exciting."
Chrisman called her son a survivor, and added she wants him to remember the ordeal as something much different than "an awesome adventure."
"He’s going to be OK, which is the bottom line," she said happily.
Lori Mathews, Malachi's great aunt, also described her reunion with the boy as an unforgettable experience.
"It was absolute exhilaration. There’s nothing that compares to that feeling of knowing that that child is safe, that his parents can now breathe," she said.
Malachi was in high spirits after seeing his family Monday. When asked what it was like to stay on the mountain overnight by himself, he replied: "It was awesome."
And when Malachi saw the rescue helicopter and knew that he had been found, he deadpanned, "I (first) thought that I wouldn't have to hike back."
Malachi also said he saw multiple helicopters pass by his location in the open before he was eventually spotted. He said he was grateful to have his coat with him while he waited to be found.
Malachi's family said earlier Monday that if any child could survive outdoors by himself, it was Malachi. The boy was also well-dressed for the weather, they said.
Mathews said Malachi's father had taught him survival skills. And just recently, Malachi actually practiced what he would do if he ever became lost in the woods.
"Just a week ago, he was camping and he and a friend were playing what would we do if we got lost. And they were burying themselves in leafs, they were building lean-tos. They were doing all the things you'd want them to do if you were lost," she said earlier, before Malachi was found.
Mathews said the family is grateful for all the support they received.
"I will tell you it brings great peace to the family knowing there are so many people who care," she said.
After Malachi was found, Mathews said all along she felt spiritually comforted and reassured that he would be safe.
"I knew they would (find him), I just knew. I just knew," she said. "I’m definitely a person of faith and my faith was that they would find him."
Mathews praised her nephew's courage in the face of uncertainty and separation.
"As scary as it was, it wasn’t to him," Mathews said. "(He) used all the skills that he’s been taught and he was brave."
Contributing: Geoff Liesik, Marc Giaque