The news that a man who disappeared at the start of winter in the Andes four months ago had been found alive began as an inspirational tale of human endurance.
But it soured last night when Chilean officials announced he was on the run after being charged with child sex abuse.
Raul Fernando Gomez survived on a diet of rats, caught in a home-made trap, and some raisins and sugar he had brought with him. He also found some food in a remote cabin he stumbled across, which undoubtedly saved his life.
The 58-year-old had lost about three stone when Argentinian officials found him on Sunday. He was dehydrated and showing some signs of malnutrition but was otherwise unharmed by his ordeal.
The Uruguayan was travelling across the mountain range from Chile to Argentina when his motorbike broke down. He continued on foot but became disoriented and lost his way after two heavy snowfalls.
Mr Gomez found a mountain shelter 2,840m up in the range and holed up for the brutal Andean winter. He was reported missing by his family, but a search was called off in July because of heavy snowstorms.
But luckily some government officials visited the shelter to measure snow levels. Mr Gomez managed to crawl to the door and call for help. He was taken by helicopter to the Rawson Hospital in the Argentinian town of San Juan.
Photos of an emaciated, bearded Gomez resting on a bed were splashed on the websites of Argentine newspapers Clarin and La Nacion.
“The truth is that this is a miracle. We still can’t believe it,” San Juan Governor Jose Luis Gioja told the local Diario de Cuyo newspaper.
“He arrived, and we spoke to him, and he spoke by phone to his wife, his mother and daughter. He was really emotional – so emotional he fainted.
“I asked him: ‘Are you a believer?’ He told me: ‘No, but now I am.’”
“He is in total shock,” Mr Gioja added. “They cleaned him up and he is still in hospital.”
One of the doctors who examined Mr Gomez was stunned by his resilience. “He’s a patient with high blood pressure, a history of smoking and signs of undernourishment,” the doctor said. “But he’s going to be fine and in a few days we’re going to discharge him.”
“I am so happy,” said his mother, Teresa Cincunegui. “Thanks to God and the Virgin my son appeared and is alive. I always knew he was still alive.”
At first it was not clear what had led the plumber to start the trek from Chile in May, the beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere, especially as he apparently had no mountaineering experience.
Now officials say he was on the run from child sex abuse charges that were filed against him in April.Reuse content