PORTLAND, Ore. -- When he got lost, 16-year-old Alex Irvin was hiking with his family and friends Saturday afternoon on the Horsetail Falls trail in the Columbia River Gorge.
"He wanted to be in front and get going and I let him go a little too far," said Alex's father Bruce Irvin.
But Alex got so far head Bruce couldn't find his autistic son and that prompted an 18 hour search and rescue operation.
"As we were calling out blowing our whistles we were trying to listen very carefully because he wasn't going to yell back," said Multnomah County search and rescue worker Nathan Cashion.
Alex's family helped with the search efforts. In fact, early Sunday morning Bruce Irvin was on the trail talking to hikers.
"He just hiked up to us and said 'Hey please keep an eye out for my son,'" said Renee Small who just happens to work with autistic kids and had an instant connection with Alex's father. She knows the challenges. Turns out, Bruce and Alex Irvin have been through all of this once before.
When Alex was 11 he got separated from his dad while hiking near Mt. St. Helens. He was lost for 3 summer nights in the woods. There was a large search, but it was Alex who found his own way out. 5 years later, Alex once again hiked to safety, somehow finding Nesika Lodge a remote hiking camp more than 7 miles up one of the steepest of all gorge trails.
"A person called in who found the missing hiker up by Nesika lodge and made contact with him and called 911," said Lt. Steve Alexander with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department.
"Like a lot of kids with autism he's a very smart boy," said Bruce Irvin. "He's resilient and has an excellent sense of direction, but we need to keep a better eye on him and I feel bad that we let that happen."
However, Sunday was a day for celebration because other than a few blisters, Alex is in perfect health and back with his family.