The subject of a two-day search in the hills west of Willits was found safe and sound Monday in Fort Bragg - completely unaware he'd been the source of consternation and a large-scale search effort, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said.
Lawrence B. Whetman, 39, happened to call his fiancee to check in from a Fort Bragg market only to learn she's spent two frantic days wondering what had become of him, authorities said.
It was all a surprise to dozens of law enforcement and search and rescue volunteers from multiple counties who had just launched for a third day, fearing Whetman may have become lost or injured in rugged terrain.
Sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney said it was the cold law enforcement feared most. Overnight temperatures had been dropping into the 20s.
Whetman's fiancee had reported him missing Saturday afternoon when he failed to return from an early morning outing, Barney said. She said Whetman had told her he was going to round up some horses on the ranch west of Willits where he's a caretaker, and was then going to scope out a route for a trail ride to the coast with friends.
But Whetman, expected back after a few hours, did not return. Nor had he returned by the time his friends from Covelo arrived for the scheduled horseback ride, Barney said.
In a bewildering case of confused communication, Whetman on Monday said he'd had actually gone on a bit of a walkabout and couldn't understand all the fuss.
He said he'd told his fiancee he'd planned to head on foot to Fort Bragg for two days, traveling along the Skunk Train line, and was to return home Monday, Barney said.
Whetman also told a deputy who drove him home that he thought his trail-riding friends had canceled, Barney said.