January 22, 2007

AWOL soldier found in Mojave Desert unhurt

North County Times [Escondido, CA]
By: Associated Press

NEEDLES, Calif. (AP) -- An Army Ranger who went absent without leave was found alone and uninjured on a mountaintop in the Mojave Desert, authorities said.

Searchers on horseback, dirt bike and four-wheel ATVs helped Army crews in Black Hawk helicopters locate Andrew Stone, 20, of Wisconsin, on Sunday afternoon.

It was unclear when the Army listed Stone as AWOL. The search reportedly began late last week.

According to San Bernardino sheriff's officials, Stone picked up maps of the Mojave Desert from a Bureau of Land Management office Friday before he abandoned his car near the edge of the desert south of Needles.

Rescuers found Stone on a mountaintop south of the Mojave National Preserve, said sheriff's Deputy Dave Pichotta.

Officials said he had no ties to the area, which is about two hours south of Las Vegas near the California-Arizona border.

The soldier could face criminal charges in Georgia, where he is stationed, sheriff's officials said.

Army officials in Georgia declined comment Sunday and referred questions about Stone to the 75th Rangers Regiment. A spokesman for the regiment did not immediately respond to phone messages Sunday.

Messages left by The Associated Press at the sheriff's office and the Department of Defense early Monday weren't immediately returned.

Stone had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.