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A lost hunter spent nearly three days in a boggy section of the Nemadji Forest north of the Twin Cities before he was rescued by helicopter early Thursday morning, the State Patrol reported.

Robert Kniefel, 61, of Lakeville, called his family early Tuesday to tell them he had lost his way after following a trail into the 92,000-acre forest. The region some 125 miles north of the Twin Cities is crisscrossed with hundreds of miles of ATV trails.

A Pine County officer exchanged text messages with Kniefel before the connection was lost. A search team using a State Patrol Bell 407 helicopter was unable to locate Kniefel during their initial search. Heavy foliage made it difficult to see, said Lt. Craig Benz of the State Patrol aviation section.

Using a new high-definition thermal imaging camera mounted on a Cirrus SR-22 airplane, the State Patrol found Kniefel soon after the crew began a nighttime search Wednesday. He had built a fire on an island in the bog.

Rescuers were unable to get to his location on foot that night. A helicopter flew to the spot at sunrise Thursday.

A St. Paul firefighter with the Minnesota Aerial Rescue Team rappelled from the chopper and then hoisted Kniefel into the air before they were flown to a nearby pasture. Kniefel didn’t require hospitalization. His family declined to comment Thursday.

Benz credited Kniefel with staying put, making it easier for the search teams to eventually find him.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747