Last second SOS message saves stranded snowmobiler's life in Nemadji State Forest

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A snowmobiler from Blaine says he’s lucky to be alive after his sled broke down in the middle of the Nemadji State Forest.

He walked in the snow for miles looking for anyone and it turns out a cryptic text he sent to his brother may have saved his life.

“This was a time that I went out by myself in unfamiliar territory and it was an extremely bad mistake,” said Matt Merritt.

Merritt hit a freshly groomed trail in Wisconsin and crossed into Minnesota’s Nemadji State Forest when his sled broke.

“As I was riding down the trail a track on my snowmobile completely separated and it shot out from behind me and left me completely stranded,” Merritt said.

With nobody around and the battery on his phone almost dead, he texted a cryptic message to his brother about a trail named Beldon.

“I was literally able to type in the word SOS to my brother, because I knew I was in pretty big trouble and I didn’t have time to get in a lengthy text message because I wanted to get the word ‘Beldon’ to both him and my dad before my phone died,” Merritt said.  

Unknown to Matt, his brother not only received the text, but he got ahold of the Douglas County Sheriff, which helped coordinate search parties.

Eventually, two men, both cousins, found his footprints along the trail and sledded until they found him on the far northern edge of the forest.

“There is all kinds of analogies I can use,” Merritt said. “They looked like a couple of school girls that ran into me like they found the pot of gold or buried treasure in a movie. They were leaping up and down and kept screaming, ‘We found you, we got you.’”

Once back to safety, Merritt discovered he had walked for miles in the snow and is now telling others to learn from his mistake.

“You shouldn’t just go out by yourself, you should take the time to have at least one guy to go with you in case something happens,” Merritt said. “And I’m a perfect example of why.” 

Merritt says it was a woman named Bonnie Nixtand at the Summit Fire and Rescue that coordinated two command centers for the search and he’s thankful to her and to Mark and Dave Nault who eventually found him.