Josh Hopkins, with his younger brother Jacob. On Boxing Day afternoon, Josh went for an adventure in the woods and became lost. He was able to send his last coordinates before his cellphone battery died, and was rescued after dark by flashlight.
SHELBURNE COUNTY, N.S. — With just two per cent of his cellphone battery life remaining, an 11-year-old boy lost in Shelburne County sent a text that likely saved his life.
Josh Hopkins Googled “how to find your co-ordinates” then sent them to his mother after becoming disoriented.
Around 2 p.m. on Boxing Day, he had set off with his new Air Soft BB gun to test it out behind his house in Hartz Point, Birchtown.
The weather was fine, fairly mild for the end of December, so he wore blue jeans, sneakers and his new camouflage winter jacket.
His mother, Kathleen, says he often goes into the woods with friends to a camp they created out of trees and bushes.
“Living with his mom and brother, his resourcefulness in the woods is entirely self-taught,” she said.
“He credits a lot to what he has read in books (as an avid reader) and survival shows he's watched on TV.”
Later that afternoon she texted Josh to let him know his father had arrived to pick him up. His texts over the next half-hour, including his coordinates, alerted her that he was lost.
The RCMP (with K9 unit) and the Shelburne County ground search and rescue organization were notified. Over the next few hours dozens of volunteers joined the search, some going door-to-door asking people to turn their lights on in hopes that Josh would make it out of the woods and see a light for safety.
Deep in the woods, with darkness descending, Josh had already gone through a stage of panic but then he sat down and began to think.
Earlier, after realizing he was lost, he turned his new jacket inside out so the fluorescent orange interior showed.
He recalled school visits from search and rescue presenters and their instructions.
“I had a bit of knowledge about what to do. We were told to hug a tree and I got some sticks and sharpened the ends with the new knife I got from my cousin for Christmas.”
He made a brush teepee and began whistling and yelling, then pausing, in series of three. He remembers feeling cold and not having any feeling below his knees. There were moments when he gave up hope of ever being rescued. He climbed up onto a rock to watch the sunset. As the sun sank into the horizon he says he missed his (late) Nanny and Grampy the most.
Tom Torak, who lives near the Hopkins, was just getting ready to sit down and eat his supper when his daughter called and told him about Josh. He set off to help.
Torak has resided in the area for 35 years and owns property there. After being briefed by the RCMP he went with his wife Laura to find Josh.
The trail and terrain were a challenge by flashlight so they decided Laura should stay put while shining a light. Tom went deeper into the brush.
“At that point we were calling Josh’s name. We could hear something but we weren’t sure if it was him,” said Torak.
Calling out to the voice he could hear in the far distance, he heard a reply, but very faint.
“After awhile I started getting a response. I said, ‘Josh, is that you?’
“He said, ‘Yes.’”
“I said, ‘Can you see my light?’”
“He said, ‘Yes.’”
“I said, ‘Can you come towards me?’ and he said, ‘No.’ The first thing I thought was, he’s injured, and I was really worried that I would have my hands full,” said Torak.
As he drew closer, he asked if Josh could come closer to him now and the boy replied, “No.”
“When I asked why, he said there was water in front of him and that he didn’t know how deep it was.”
When Torak reached him, he could see a brook that was several feet across and a couple of feet deep.
Josh was only wearing sneakers and Torak didn’t want him to get his feet wet as they had a long trek out of the woods. He found a narrow spot where Josh could cross on some boulders.
“I told him to come here and when he did I gave him a little hug and asked him if he was ok.
“He said, ‘I think so. I’m a little scraped up and stuff.’ When I asked him if he was cold, he said, ‘Yeah, a little bit.’ He was really calm and I’m glad that he was because it really helped the situation a lot.”
The two began the journey back to Laura, who had been joined by the RCMP. They had been shouting for Torak, who couldn’t hear them because of the trail-breaking noises he was making on the way back.
“When I came out, Laura, the RCMP, the K9 unit, and two of my stepsons and stepdaughter were there with blankets for Josh. We were still a good 10-minute walk from Kathleen’s house,” he said.
It was around 8 p.m.
Torak says his biggest concern was that the weather was going to take a really bad turn for the worse that night. High winds and freezing rain were expected and he knew that Josh likely wasn’t dressed for it because of the earlier warm temperatures.
“There was no way I was going to go back there and not come out without him,” he said.
Kathleen says she remembers “the most amazing thumbs up from one of the officers that Josh had been located and then that EHS was not required.”
Josh seemed more relieved than anything when he emerged from the woods, she said.
“His first words on his way over to hug me were ‘Mom, you've gotta buy me a new jacket, I broke the zipper on the new one you bought me for Christmas!’"
Josh has advice for anyone planning to venture into the woods in the winter.
In addition to bringing a fully charged cellphone, pack water or juice packs, granola bars, cheese and crackers.
“Bring an extra pair of clothes in case your primary pair gets wet. If you have a jacket like I did that you can flip inside out to be orange, that would be something to bring, if not an orange garbage bag.
Try getting a tin-foil like blanket (emergency thermal) to keep in body heat, some kind of utensil like a knife, hatchet, etc…. and boots.
(Also, remember to tell others when and where you plan on going in the woods.)