This Sunday, July 8, 2018 photo provided by the Missoula County Sheriff's Office shows a 5-month-old infant with dirt under their fingernails after authorities say the baby survived about nine hours being buried under sticks and debris in the woods. Image Credit: AP

Montana: A man told investigators he left a five-month-old baby boy in the woods after a weekend car crash because the baby was very heavy, court records said.

A faint cry led a sheriff's deputy to a pile of sticks and debris in the woods of western Montana. There, the deputy, part of a search and rescue team, discovered a five-month-old infant buried face down, but still alive.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the infant, clothed only in a wet and soiled onesie, had been in the wilderness for at least nine hours, surviving a chilly night when temperatures dipped to about 7 degrees Celcius, before being discovered early on Sunday.
"This is what we call a miracle," the sheriff's office said.

A photo provided by the Missoula County Jail shows suspect Francis Crowley, who was being held on $50,000 bail on a charge of criminal endangerment. AP

Francis Carlton Crowley, 32, who had been caring for the infant, has been charged with criminal endangerment. He is expected to appear in court on Tuesday and could face additional charges.

The baby's relationship to Crowley, who was being held in jail on $50,000 (Dh183,650) bond, was not immediately clear.

The baby had minor scrapes and bruises but was in good health, the sheriff's office said on Tuesday.

The sheriff's office said deputies were called to the Lolo Hot Springs area in Lolo National Forest late Saturday to investigate reports that a man was acting strangely, threatening people and claiming to have a gun.

From left: Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Ross Jessop, US Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Nick Scholz and Sheriff T.J. McDermott answer questions. AP

But when they arrived at the hot springs, about 48 kilometres west of Missoula, the man, later identified by the police as Crowley, had left. Deputies went looking for him after learning that a five-month-old who had been left in his care had not been seen for several hours.

They returned to the springs when another caller reported that he had reappeared. Under questioning, Crowley, who seemed to be under the influence of drugs, said the baby "was possibly buried somewhere in the mountains", the sheriff's office said.

Search and rescue teams from the sheriff's office, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Montana Highway Patrol fanned out in a ground search.

For more than six hours, they combed the woods. Then, a deputy heard crying, and following the sound, discovered the baby buried face down at about 2.30am local time. That means the infant was "in the woods unattended and in the cold for a minimum of nine hours," the sheriff's office said.