ELLIOTSVILLE TOWNSHIP, Maine — A Newport couple who got lost in the woods in Piscataquis County said after they were found Tuesday that they had just wanted a couple of minutes by themselves.
They got about 24 hours of unexpected alone time followed by a sudden separation.
Michael Chapman, 40, was arrested on a warrant shortly after he and Kelli McFarlin, 38, came out of the woods.
The couple had enjoyed a Memorial Day weekend camping trip near Little Wilson Falls with six other people, including McFarlin’s son Zachary and his girlfriend, Rylee Graves, also of Newport.
The eight campers were packing up to leave Monday when Chapman and McFarlin decided to separate from the group. They took a side trail and got lost.
“When you’re out there everything looks the same,” McFarlin said, breaking into tears of relief as she spoke to reporters in the parking area near the trail to the falls.
“I took us in a big circle,” Chapman said, hugging her.
The couple realized they were lost when the sun started to go down. That’s when they decided to turn around and go to a cabin they had passed earlier.
“We found a campsite, a log cabin and slept in the shed” to avoid a heavy downpour Monday night, Chapman said.
Warden Lt. Kevin Adam, search and rescue coordinator, said Tuesday that the couple somehow got onto the Appalachian Trail instead of the trail back to the parking lot.
“I’m just glad he found us,” McFarlin said of Warden Josh Tibbitts, who found the couple about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday about 2 miles from where the family’s vehicles were parked.
Chapman, who appeared happy to be out of the woods, has a criminal history. He was part of a group of four involved in a smash-and-grab burglary at a Corinth store in 2012. Chapman was convicted by a jury in April 2013 of arson, burglary, aggravated criminal mischief and theft by unauthorized taking, and was sentenced to 3½ years in prison with all but two years suspended. He also was ordered to pay $1,500 in restitution for his role in the break-in. He was released in June 2014.
Chapman was taken to the Piscataquis County Jail by a warden after his Tuesday arrest, a jail official confirmed. He was wanted for “unpaid fines and fees,” a Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher said.
The jail official could not confirm whether the outstanding warrant is related to the Corinth burglary. Chapman remained behind bars as of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Chapman and McFarlin last were seen about noon Monday where the group camped near Little Wilson Stream’s upper falls, which is about an hour’s walk down a trail from the parking area, Graves said.
“We were just all packing up, there were four groups, and we all came down here,” Zachary McFarlin said, standing in the parking area. “They didn’t show. I went back up two hours later and there was no sign of them.”
Several things went through his mind, including the two being attacked by bears or murderers, “but getting lost was the last thing to go through my mind. My mom’s been here so many times,” he said.
Chapman’s brother Richard commented that “I’ve never been so scared in my life,” as he talked with other family members at the parking area Tuesday while waiting for the duo to be walked out of the wilderness by wardens.
Adam said that the search started when the family called for help at about 3:40 p.m. Monday. The search was called off when darkness fell but resumed about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday with 12 to 15 searchers “running the trails.”
Social media helped in the search, he said.
“We did get a call from someone who ran into them on the trail,” Adam said.
That call came in at noon from someone who was hiking in the area and saw the news about the missing couple, the lieutenant said.
The Maine Warden Service, Maine Forest Service and a helicopter from the Maine Army National Guard base in Bangor assisted with the search, which was about to kick into a higher gear when the news the couple was found came over the radio, Adam said.
In addition to the Elliotsville search, rescue crews also assisted with an injured hiker, a missing fisherman and three other searches for people over the weekend, Adam said. His advice is to be prepared with supplies, including water, food and an emergency blanket; carry a GPS system, if possible; inform others of where you will be hiking or camping; don’t rely on a cellphone to work in the dense woods of Maine; and “stay on the trail.”
McFarlin had advice for others who head to the deep woods to camp.
“Stay together. Don’t go alone,” she said. “We were very silly to separate from the group.”