In the same remote valley where 20 people died in a flash flood last summer, six Louisiana Boy Scouts trapped by a rising river built a campfire and ate jambalaya and grits, confident rescuers would eventually arrive.
The boys' two adult leaders had them set up camp near a mountain they could climb if their trail flooded _ one of a series of decisions that allowed the group to emerge unharmed from the Albert Pike Recreation Area in southwest Arkansas. Rescuers also praised them for good planning, leaving a map of their planned trek and avoiding the valley floor when they realized how deep and fast the river had grown.
"They did exactly what they needed to do," Montgomery County Sheriff David White said. "As long as they stayed on high ground, we figured they were going to be in good shape."
While the weekend's conditions weren't as bad as the deadly flood that struck last year while people were sleeping, they were dangerous. The boys crossed the Little Missouri River at the start of their trip Thursday but by the time they went to leave Sunday morning, it had grown to 70 yards wide and up to 5 feet deep. Scoutmaster Jeff Robinson tested it and ordered the troop to retreat.
"I realized the water was too strong to cross the river with the boys," Robinson said. A National Guard helicopter eventually plucked the group to safety after sunrise Tuesday.
The boys said they passed the time in between talking and sleeping in. With no cell phone service available, several said their biggest concern was what their parents were thinking.
"I was worried that my parents would freak out," said Ian Fuselier, 13.
After eating jambalaya, eggs and grits Sunday, the boys had only one meal of jambalaya Monday. But Robinson said they had enough food to last several days, a water filter and a dry camp.
"If we had to stay three, four, five days, we had the resources to do so," he said.
Troop 162 was reported missing when it didn't return home Monday as planned, and anxious parents and relatives drove up from Lafayette, La. Search teams on the ground couldn't find the boys, and rain and fog prevented a helicopter from doing a flyover.
With no news about their children, the parents gathered Monday night at a local church in a scene eerily similar to a vigil nearly a year before. Pastor Graig Cowart led them in prayer, calling out the names of the stranded boys and asking for their safe return. Relatives joined hands. Some cried.
"These people are really hurting," Cowart said during the wait Monday night. "They felt really alone and isolated."
The Scouts themselves said there was no reason to worry.
The troop had filed a detailed schedule and map for its hike with a Scout leader who didn't make the trip, and they knew to avoid low areas during rain, said Art Hawkins, executive director of the Boy Scouts' Evangeline Area Council in Lafayette.
One of the problems authorities encountered the year before was they didn't know exactly how many people were in the park. Also, people had camped in low areas despite being told a flash flood watch had been posted.
The Scouts were found early Tuesday when the weather improved enough for a National Guard helicopter to make it into the park and spot their campfire. Just after 2 a.m., Guardsmen tossed the troop a bag with supplies: ponchos, food, water and blankets.
After daybreak, a helicopter landed in a clearing about 300 yards from their camp. The pilot ferried the eight out in two trips, delivering them near a camp supply store where their families applauded their arrival.
Parents who had appeared anxious hours earlier said they had full faith in Robinson and assistant scoutmaster Andy Trahan.
"I knew they were well prepared," said Jonah Fuselier, Ian's father.
Authorities didn't have immediate estimates for how much the rescue efforts cost or which local and state agencies would pick up the tab. The Scouts wouldn't be asked to pay, Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said.
Hawkins said he was sure the boys thought about the people who died last year when they were hiking through the area, but he noted they camped in a different situation and location.
"I wish I could videotape the whole thing," he said. "This was the lesson of all the things you could do right. There was nothing that could have been done differently to change the outcome."
After breakfast at the church and a thankful prayer led by Cowart, the scouts and their families started home.
The parents planned to drive separately. The scouts and their leaders were to go together in the same van they took to Arkansas, just like they planned.
Associated Press writers Andrew DeMillo and Jeannie Nuss contributed from Little Rock.