Friday the 13th isn’t unlucky for Longview’s Chuck Robbins anymore — it’s now the day he found a 67-year-old man who had been missing in frigid temperatures for nearly a week.
“It’s always considered a bad day, but I think it’s turned into a good day from now on,” he said Saturday, the day after finding Richard Sturm while out elk hunting.
Sturm is recovering from exposure, but faces what could be a serious diagnosis with a brain tumor.
Dozens of people had been searching for Sturm since he disappeared Dec. 8 after leaving his daughter’s Castle Rock home for his in west Longview.
Robbins, a 35-year-old rock quarry worker, wasn’t part of an official search party, but he decided to hunt in the general search area figuring he could keep an eye out while also scouting elk.
He headed down a spur of a logging road high in the Willapa Hills northwest of Longview Friday because his son had got his own elk there.
This time, though, Robbins noticed some broken trees that were out of place. Then he saw Sturm’s white truck.
He was struck with a mix of excitement and dread. After so many days, he feared he might not find Sturm alive.
“It was gut wrenching,” he said about approaching the truck. “But then I started beating on the side of the truck and he moved. My heart went from my toes back into my chest.”
Doctors have since discovered that Sturm has a brain tumor that likely led to him getting lost in the first place. Perhaps confused, he initially told Robbins that he’d been taking a nap.
“And I told him ‘No, you’ve been missing since Sunday, and your family and everyone is looking for you,’” Robbins said.
Sturm was a bit disoriented, but he also took steps to stay alive. He stayed bundled up in the truck for shelter and hung his orange hunter’s vest in a tree as a signal. Family member said Friday he subsisted on a Snickers bar and water that he got by scraping ice off the truck’s hood.
“He was definitely doing everything right,” Robbins said.
Robbins spoke by phone with Sturm’s family Saturday who said they can’t ever thank him enough.
They plan to take Robbins and his family out to dinner soon “so we can shake his hand,” Sturm’s daughter Julie Nelson said. She added she’s sure her father will want to do the same.
Sturm remains at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, undergoing tests and meeting with specialists. He’s recovering from exposure and dehydration, but he still faces serious health challenges with the tumor diagnosis, Nelson said Saturday. A long-term prognosis hasn’t been given.
As for Robbins, he stayed with Strum until he was loaded into an ambulance, and then headed home. He kept an eye out for elk along the way, but said he’s not really worried about hunting anymore this year.
“I might as well punch my tag and call it a done season,” he said. “It was the best season I ever had, and I didn’t even get one.”