DURHAM — Bow and arrow in hand, Donald Meeks went hunting carp on Falls Lake and almost didn't come back.
He set out Monday morning. Not till after midnight did a Highway Patrol helicopter crew find the 68-year-old Durham man stuck in mud up to his chest near the Interstate 85 bridge.
Meeks, a retired landscaper, had gone on foot out on the lake, where water is low because of the drought. He was "bowfishing," a common way to catch carp in shallow water.
An old high school friend, David Minshew, came for the ride but not the hunt. As Meeks set off through the woods, Minshew waited by the car, expecting to do so for just a few hours.
Afternoon came and went. Minshew grew worried. The sun set.
About 7 p.m., a motorist stopped to see whether he was stranded. Minshew borrowed the driver's cell phone to report his friend missing, then called Meeks' wife, Faye.
"I didn't know if he had a heart attack," she said. "Everything goes through your mind."
Durham County sheriff's deputies used boats to search the area, where grass grows as high as 3 feet. At midnight, Maj. Mike Andrews asked for a Highway Patrol helicopter.
The helicopter crew, using thermal-imaging equipment, found Meeks at 2:11 a.m. Tuesday. He was about 300 yards north of the interstate surrounded by tall grass.
"He was buried up to his chest in some mud, quicksand-type matter," Andrews said.
Deputies almost ended up like Meeks when they stepped off their boats into the muck. They tried pulling him out with a rope, which didn't work. A deputy who lives nearby used his all-terrain vehicle to get close, then created a walkway to Meeks out of plywood. It took two hours to get him out "using elbow grease," Andrews said.
On Tuesday evening, after sleeping most of the day, Meeks said he had simply been walking when he fell in a hole. As the hours passed, he began to despair. "I asked Jesus what in the world I had done to deserve this," he said.
Cold and wet, he began hallucinating, he said.
"I thought about being in my warm bed and not out here shivering," he said.
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