LAS VEGAS — A 76-year-old diabetic Colorado man survived 10 days in the remote Nevada desert by melting snow and using skills he learned as a Boy Scout, but a friend who was with him and ventured away to get help died.
James Klemovich and Laszlo Szabo, 75, went to scope out some mines in the state when their car became stuck on a lonely road with no cell phone service, Klemovich's wife, Joanne, said Thursday.
The men tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the car, and lit flares and started fires in hopes somebody would see them in northwestern Nevada's Pershing County, an area where less than 7,000 people are spread over 6,000 square miles.
They used a towel in the car to strain ditch water and snow into water bottles, but, after four or five days, Szabo left to get help. Joanne Klemovich began to worry when several days passed without a phone call from her husband.
"I figured maybe they'd had an accident and they were stranded," she said. "I thought maybe they were in a mine shaft. All kinds of things were going through my head."
Joanne Klemovich said she was expecting the worst when authorities called Tuesday night to say her husband had been found by military personnel who were holding training exercises in the area.
"I thought it was bad news, but it was very good news," she said by telephone from the couple's home in Littleton, Colo. "I didn't know what to even do or say."
James Klemovich has diabetes, wears a pacemaker and had a triple bypass heart surgery, his wife said.
He told her he wasn't panicking while he sat for days waiting for Szabo's return, she said. He kept a journal, noting how much water he drank and what he did each day. And he wrote a letter each day for her.
Drinking regularly was likely the biggest factor in his survival despite the diabetes that could have sent his blood sugar dangerously out of whack, according to Rita Kalyani, who teaches endocrinology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
During a fast, she said, the body can draw glucose from the liver or from fat stores to keep levels from dropping too low. But having enough water is essential to flush out excess glucose and prevent levels from rising too high.
When the military personnel found Klemovich, they gave him a banana, two oranges and three boiled eggs, he told his wife.
Szabo, of Lovelock, Nev., was found dead about a mile and a half away. An autopsy is being performed.
Klemovich said her husband hasn't been talking much about his friend and that she doesn't know whether Szabo has any close relatives.
"When I first talked to him I could tell he'd been through an ordeal," she said. "When he called back, he sounded pretty good."
James Klemovich is still in Nevada, waiting for the car to be recovered before returning home. He was treated and released from a hospital.
Joanne Klemovich said she knows the first words she'll say to her husband of 48 years as of Wednesday: "Happy belated anniversary."