On a weekend trip that was a surprise anniversary gift for his wife, an outdoors-loving Air Force veteran ventured out with two of his sons for a hike on a remote trail. Clad only in light jackets and sweaters, the three apparently didn’t know how rapidly the weather would turn ugly, and that proved deadly.
Searchers found the soaked bodies of 36-year-old David Decareaux and the two boys – ages 8 and 10 – on the Ozark Trail on Sunday, a day after Decareaux declined a passerby’s offer of a ride back to the lodge where they had been staying, Reynolds County Sheriff Tom Volner said. The cold had killed them, he said.
Only the family’s 4-month-old yellow Labrador retriever survived the hike. He was found near Decareaux, who died at the scene, and the two boys, who were declared dead at a hospital after hours of efforts to revive them failed.
The tragedy crushed Decareaux’s father-in-law, Keith Hartrum, who described the family as tightly knit, “always on the go and adventurous.”
“Dave was a great guy, a good father, son-in-law and husband,” Hartrum told The Associated Press. “Those two boys were just precious – smart, very nice kids.”
It was nearly 60 degrees Saturday morning when Decareaux and his sons set out on the popular trail that runs through a sparsely populated area of southeast Missouri. Decareaux was wearing only a light jacket, while one of his sons was clad in a fleece pullover, and the other a sweater, Volner said.
They were ill-equipped as the temperature sank into the 40s, and a storm that would drop 2 inches of rain set in, making the trail all but impassable.
Volner said there are no caves or other places of refuge along the trail. Although Decareaux had a cellphone and flashlight with him, both devices lost power at some point, his wife, Sarah, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday.
A passer-by spotted the hikers more than three hours into their journey and asked if they needed a ride back to the Brushy Creek Lodge near Black, where Decareaux’s wife and their three other children – ages 12, 4 and 2 – were staying. But Decareaux declined, telling the man they could make it back, the sheriff said.