The East Setauket doctor who vanished after going fly-fishing on Labor Day was found yesterday by police -- semiconscious, dehydrated and wearing fishing waders in a Smithtown nature preserve -- a "miraculous" ending to a three-day search.
Physicians at Stony Brook University Hospital, and the man's relatives, said they were puzzled but pleased at how Jerome Nadler, 76, survived alone and exposed to the elements in the 543-acre Caleb Smith State Park Preserve.
A Suffolk police dog and his handlers, officers William Krolikiewicz and Samuel Barreto, found Nadler just after noon in a clearing surrounded by brush and thickets about 200 feet southeast of the Nissequogue River, a considerable distance from where he had parked.
State Park Police Capt. Bruce Marx said it was unclear how or why Nadler ended up alone at the remote spot.
"He's a very tough individual," Matthew Nadler said of his father. "He's been an avid fisherman. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, Vietnam veteran."
"It seemed like a dim possibility" that he would survive, said Matthew Nadler, of Overland Park. "I'm very surprised and pleased and blessed right now. It is a miraculous story right now."
Nadler's wife, daughter and son joined him Thursday at the hospital, where he was in serious condition. They thanked the agencies involved.
State Park Police Chief Richard O'Donnell said searchers raced against the clock to find Nadler alive.
"This is an area full of running, swift water, swamp -- it's not like searching on dry land," he said. "Everybody was kind of awestruck that he was alive and in the condition he was in. We couldn't be any happier. It's a great ending."
Attending physician Frederick Schiavone called Nadler "extremely fortunate."
His waders, rubber pants used in fly fishing, may have kept Nadler from succumbing to exposure, the doctor said. Police said Nadler's cellphone was left in his car. He was found lying on his back.
Nadler had a "sunburned look" indicating he had been out in the elements for several days, Schiavone said.
Schiavone said marks found on Nadler "could be bug bites or small lacerations from thorns."
The two Suffolk officers said the police dog, named Chase, first found a bottle of a gel used by fly fishermen on their lures. Then, 50 feet away, the dog found Nadler, the officers said.
"It's the tube that probably saved his life," Krolikiewicz said.
Krolikiewicz stayed with Nadler, checking his vital signs and giving him water, as Barreto and Chase went to get Marine Bureau officers and forest rangers to help move their patient from the clearing, they said.
Nadler knew where he was, his name and what he was doing in the wooded area, Krolikiewicz said.
"He joked that he had been sleeping," the officer said. "We just could not believe that this man was still alive."
Nadler's disappearance sparked a massive search including Suffolk Police Marine Bureau officers and dive team, state Forest Rangers and volunteers.
It unsettled his relatives, friends and members of Chabad of Stony Brook, where he has worshipped for the past five years. His loved ones were ecstatic at word of his finding.
"When they heard that he was alive and conscious, there was a big sense of relief and joy," said Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen, who arrived at the preserve with senior Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum and Rabbi Motti Grossbaum of Chabad when Nadler was being airlifted to the hospital.
Motti Grossbaum, who grew up across the street from Nadler, said he was relieved after spending time with him.
"We prayed together and he remembered the words to the prayers," he said. "That's a good sign. I think he's going to pull through."