Man Who Went Missing When His Truck Got Stuck in the Snow Recounts His 15 Days Lost in the Wilderness of the Emerald Triangle

This side by side portrays the dramatic weight-loss Castagnetto experienced after being lost for 15 days [Picture on the right provided by Brett, the man who found Castagnetto]

Marc Castagnetto, a 57-year-old man who disappeared in the middle of a snowstorm after his off-road vehicle got stuck, remarkably returned to civilization on April 20 when he reappeared 25 miles northwest of where his journey began 15 days before. Castagnetto endured hunger, hallucinations, and frostbite during his perilous journey and survived to tell the tale.

In the early morning of Saturday, April 4, Castagnetto called a friend in Hydesville alerting him that his truck had gone down an embankment off Highway 36 and he was unable to extricate it. Castagnetto recalled he “wasn’t getting phone reception so I hiked up a hill.” When he got reception and called his friend, Castagnetto was directed to “to put my [GPS] location on, and just as I was going to put my location on, the phone died.” At that point, he said, “The snow was falling all at once.” He added, “It was weird. I lost direction, I had a short walk back to the truck but I passed it somehow.”

Castagnetto figured he “knew how to get” where he intended but never found his truck. He explained that his tracks “were covered up in the snow” and he “tried to find roads.” In the early days of his excursion, Castagnetto sought rural 8 Mile Road “to go to a buddy’s house” but never found it.

Castagnetto’s memory of his 15 days in the wilderness was not linear, more like a patchwork of significant moments. He said his sense of time was impaired. He said,“I didn’t think I was out there very long”. He acknowledged that as the days went by he “began to hallucinate and talk to people that were not there”. Castagnetto described his exhaustion-induced delirium recalling how “the rivers up there sound just like helicopters, just like two-stroke motors and helicopters. It was driving me insane. I was looking for helicopters and motorcycles the whole time I was out there. I was yelling ‘Stop!’”. 

Despite the disorientation, Castagnetto said, “I put my mind to movement.” He remembered observing that it “was like I traveled over seven mountains” but conflictingly, he always thought 8-Mile Road was “just around the corner”. Castagnetto added that “I followed every river, and every river took me nowhere.”

Addressing how he met the demands of food, water, and shelter, Castagnetto maintained that all he “ate out there were these little yellow flowers that were sweet” and he said he stayed hydrated by “drinking out of creeks.” 

Castagnetto said he became keenly aware that he was being “followed by a couple of mountain lions” and out of fear began “sleeping during the day and staying awake at night.” For protection, Castagnetto explained that when it got dark, he “hid out in the burrows of trees and I’d cover myself with lumber. I’d put grass down on the ground.” He described the lodging as “cold but safe”.

On particularly cold nights, he would “stuff grass inside my jacket beefing it up and make it warmer than it was”. He admitted that “sometimes there wasn’t grass, and I’d have weeds and ants all over and I’d be like ‘what the hell am I doing?’”

He recalled sleeping “in a couple of little trailers after coming across old grows that had shut down.” The night before emerging onto Titlow Road, he “stayed in a Uhaul truck with the windows broke in the front.” He said, “I slept in there and I put the floor mats in the windows to keep it warm”.

As the days went on, Castagnetto grew “anxious” because “I didn’t see or hear anybody.” At one point he saw helicopters that “were aggressively scanning the mountain across from me.” In his state of exhaustion, Castagnetto admitted, “I thought I was hallucinating.”

Castagnetto’s physical and mental state began to deteriorate. He reported losing significant weight and feeling weak. His feet began to blister. He described how “the pain started when I was walking through the water, my heel, the back of my shoe, was hitting the back of my foot. If I kept them moist they wouldn’t hurt so bad until I laid down and then they would dry up and then I’d go to get back up and they’d hurt again.”

Mentally, the isolation was getting to him. Castagnetto “would wake up talking to people that weren’t there” and he remembered seeing “many men and women talking on the side of a riverbank.” To assuage his addled mind, Castagnetto would remember his fondness for his truck, “morning coffee” and “burgers from Burger Bar.”

Castagnetto’s wanderings came to an abrupt end on the morning of April 20 when he began to see signs of civilization. Fatigued, he described lying down on the side of a hill, looking up, seeing three power lines, and thinking “I should follow those.”

These power lines brought him to the perimeter of a marijuana growing operation. A worker saw the tattered man and asked Castagnetto, “Where are you trying to go?” Castagnetto said he was looking for the Mad River. The worker, astonished, said, “You’re like 20 miles away, at 299, dude.”

The worker directed Castagnetto to Titlow Road telling him at the end of the road is the 299. Castagnetto continued walking and recalled how “the road was a steep grade” and in his weakened state he became tired and laid down on the roadside. Castagnetto said he woke up to the sound of chains” and saw “two vehicles coming down the road”.  

Marc Castagnetto poses with Brett while enjoying food and drink after missing for 15 days [Photos provided by Brett]

A Humboldt County man who has requested to be referred to only as Brett was driving one of those vehicles. He quickly came to recognize Castagnetto: “Brett told me, ‘Hey, you’re the guy from the news! You’re that guy that people are looking for.” 

After giving Castagnetto food and water, Brett “had his buddy take me to Blue Lake” where Castagnetto ate a hearty meal and met with Humboldt County Sheriff deputies and afterward his foot injuries were treated at Mad River Hospital.

Brett’s co-worker photographed the pair soon after stumbling upon Castagnetto. Castagnetto was wearing a light San Francisco Giants jacket and seemingly a pair of flannel pajama pants. Castagnetto explained that at the beginning of his journey he was wearing a “pair of blue jeans and a green thick hoodie on top of those.” Castagnetto had earlier forded a deep creek and “ended up leaving them there because I crossed the river and they were soaking wet and heavy.” Again, revealing the depths of Castagnetto’s delirium, he remembered that “in my mind, I thought I was going to be saved, so I left them at that beach, so all I had were my pajamas and a Giants jacket.”

Castagnetto did not describe himself as an avid outdoorsman. “I ride dirt bikes and four-wheel but I’m not a backpacker, hunter, or survivalist,” he said. The staff at Mad River Hospital told him that it was “a miracle I survived.” He attributed his survival to “keeping moving” and reminding himself that “I’ll find something tomorrow.” Castagnetto even described moments of epiphany in the backcountry. He said, “Sometimes I would look upward, to the trees, and the sky, and the mountains. I put my mind to how beautiful things were.”

Castagnetto grew emotional reflecting on Cassandra Overson, the members of Emerald Triangle Offroad, and search and rescue personnel that aided in his search: “This experience has totally given me a different perspective. I have realized how things could be taken away so easily. These people brought my life back in.”

Another picture of Marc Castagnetto and Brett on the day he was located after missing for 15 days.

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