The family of John Skalsky Jr. was rejoicing Wednesday, celebrating that he was alive and that his aunt had found him lying along the railroad tracks near this Benton County community.
Now comes the hard work of recovery for the 22-year-old who survived being injured and lying in the open for more than three days, with temperatures in the 30s and 40s and light rain falling Tuesday and Wednesday.
Skalsky, who lives in Blairstown with his fiancee, went missing Saturday night. He was last heard from around 7 p.m.
He told family members he was catching a ride with an acquaintance from Blairstown to Norway to go to a party. He never arrived. He’d earlier told family members he was going to walk to Norway, possibly along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, which is where the search for him focused. Norway is about 8 miles east of Blairstown.
Benton County Sheriff Randy Forsyth said authorities believe Skalsky hopped aboard an eastbound Union Pacific train east of Blairstown on Saturday and rode that train to the Norway area, where he jumped from the train.
An aunt, whose name was not available tonight, found Skalsky around noon Wednesday one-fourth mile east of Norway. He was unresponsive but had a pulse, authorities said.
Forsyth said it appears Skalsky was lying where he’d been injured. The spot was close to the railroad tracks, a main road and a house.
“I could not believe it,” said Judith Purcell, a family friend helped search for Skalsky. “Do you know how many cars drove by that ditch going out of Norway? You could have seen him so easy, but we didn’t go that far out (in the searches).”
Purcell said she had talked to Skalsky’s mother on Wednesday morning.
“I promised her that we would bring him home,” she said. “I didn’t know how. I’m not a professional searcher or anything. I’m just a mom. I’ve got kids his age.”
Community members, family members and volunteers joined in the search for Skalsky after he was reported missing Sunday night. At times, 75 people helped, in addition to a helicopter. On Wednesday, around a dozen of Skalsky’s relatives and closest friends continued the search.
Skalsky was taken to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City with multiple injuries. His condition was not available last night.
The Sheriff’s Office and Union Pacific Railroad authorities are investigating but said there is no indication of foul play.
Mark Davis, Union Pacific spokesman in Omaha, said Thursday that a crew of a westbound intermodal train reported seeing someone or something lying next to the track near Watkins, which is just south of Norway, at 7:02 p.m. Saturday.
The crew of another train reported, at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, that they didn’t see anyone along the tracks but did see someone wearing black clothes walking away from the tracks toward “old Highway 30” near the 23rd Avenue crossing east of Blairstown, Davis said.
Being close to a railroad is “extremely dangerous,” Davis said. “We do remind hunters in the fall to stay away.”
The speed limit for trains in the area is 70 mph.
Skalsky’s family members released a statement last night through UI Hospitals saying they were overjoyed that their “son, brother, fiance, nephew and friend” had been found alive.
They thanked the friends and family members, volunteers, law enforcement and news media for assistance in the search for him.
“We are now focused on helping John recover from this ordeal,” they said in the statement. “We look forward to celebrating with everyone when his recovery is complete.”
Steve Gravelle of The Gazette contributed to this story.