Three miles outside of Marion Forks, Oregon, Jerry William McDonald went through a 68-day ordeal that ultimately ended in his death from hypothermia and starvation.

The question on many people’s lips is simply, “Why didn’t he just walk back to town?”

Authorities say that McDonald was a transient, and estranged from his family. But he was not without resources. When the 68-year-old Oregon man got his pickup stuck in the snowy backwoods, he still had gallons of water, extra fuel and warm clothes, but not enough food to sustain him for the length of his ordeal. He also had $5,000 in cash, a jack for his truck, and chains on his tires.

McDonald kept a journal of his struggle, but he never clearly said why he was staying put. Perhaps the vehicle was his home, and he did not want to abandon it. Perhaps he was simply waiting for help.

A U.S. Forest Service crew found his body Thursday, May 12, 2011, still in his sleeping bag in the back of his GMC pickup truck.

This story bears a striking similarity to that of Rita Chretien, the Canadian woman who was recently found after having been marooned in her van for seven weeks, most of which she spent alone after her husband left to search for help.

The question I take away from these two stories is one that’s tough to answer. When do you stay put, and when do you take the uncertain walk toward “self-rescue”?

When to Stay Put
Unless it is hazardous to do so, you should always stay put if you find yourself in a survival emergency. It makes it easier for searchers to find you. You definitely want to make camp if:

• Someone will miss you within a few hours, or even a few days if you can last that long.

• Visibility is an issue. For example, if darkness or a snow squall could cause you to walk off a cliff.

• You have a medical issue that prevents you from moving.

• In the event of a natural disaster, you have no safer place to go.

When To Go
It’s time to seriously consider self-rescue if:
• No one knows where to begin looking for you.

• No one even knows you are missing.

• You are out of supplies that you need to stay alive.

• You have a medical situation that time cannot heal.