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Man survives 19 days in the wild by eating snakes and squirrels

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SAN FRANCISCO -

A 72-year-old man survived for 19 days in the northern California wilderness -- all alone, living off the land -- and eating snakes and squirrels to survive.

The Mendocino National Forest is north of San Francisco.  It has rocky terrain with lots of ledges -- and that's actually what happened to this guy.  He slipped on the terrain, was knocked unconscious and couldn't meet back up with his buddy that he was hunting with.

When you see Gene Penaflor surrounded by family and friends, it's hard to believe he was rescued just 24 hours earlier -- after surviving for 19 days in the wilderness alone.

"I don't panic because panic will kill me right away, I know that," he said.

Penaflor tried to make light of his plight -- which started September 24th.  Heavy fog separated him from his hunting buddy.  Unable to see, he stepped into a crevasse.

"In the process of falling straight down, I thought my kneecap was broken," he said.  "After that, all went dead.. I don't know how long I was out."

He survived by eating algae, a snake and three squirrels -- under whose tree he built a shelter.

"Over the process of three days, those squirrels were dead because of me."

His only supplies were a few trash bags, a Bic lighter and seven bullets that Penaflor said he knew had to hit their marks.

"They concentrated here, he was here around Devil's Rock," said Gene's son, Jeremy Penaflor, who pointed out the campsite where his father spent 17 of 19 days, keeping a fire going day and night to signal rescue crews who never saw the signs.

"19 days I knew was nothing for him, so I knew he was there," said Jeremy.

And his faith paid off.  On Saturday, a hunter spotted Penaflor and the ordeal was finally over -- the family back together.

Gene is now recovering and says he won't be doing any more interviews for a while because his voice was tired from telling his story so many times.

Read more from FOX 2 San Francisco: Hunter found in NorCal forest ate squirrels

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