Lost in Utah for 10 days, couple found alive

By Ben Winslow and Nancy Perkins
Deseret News

CEDAR CITY, Utah — Thoughts of family inspired Tamitha Garner to keep going as she and her husband hiked to an amazing rescue in the harsh backcountry of southern Utah Wednesday.

"My family is what kept me going," Garner said Wednesday night. "Every thought was with my family. I had to get back home."

Tom and Tamitha Garner of Kearns were found Wednesday afternoon in Modena Canyon, about 60 miles west of Cedar City, by an Iron County road crew clearing a remote road into Beaver County.

Tamitha Garner said that when she saw the crew's truck, "I was running and screaming towards it."

She said their experience camping, monitoring their water, staying in their truck and rationing out their food helped them survive their ordeal. The couple vanished 10 days ago.

"We do camping all the time, so we just kind of had our heads together, and he's an Eagle Scout," Tamitha Garner said, referring to her husband.

An emergency room doctor who examined the couple Wednesday afternoon said that Tom and Tamitha Garner "have a good mental status and are very happy to be found."

Dr. Darrell Wilson, a physician at Cedar City's Valley View Medical Center, said at a Wednesday evening press conference that the Garners were "in surprisingly good condition considering the trial they went through and the difficult experience they had out in the wilderness."

Both were dehydrated and suffered some blisters and minor frostbite on their fingers and toes, Wilson said, but nothing that will cause long-term damage.

Chuck Hulet, who was working a road grader when he saw the couple standing by the road, said, "She was glad to see us, her and her husband. They just grabbed me and gave me a big hug."

In an interview with the Deseret Morning News, Hulet said the couple told him they were out at a spring looking at horses when a storm moved overhead.

"They got stuck from the storm and spent eight nights in the pickup," he said. "The plane flew over looking for them but didn't see them."

The couple decided to hike out on foot and were found by Hulet and his crew.

Ironically, the crew was clearing the snowpacked road to reach a family stuck in a cabin in the area when they encountered the Garners. The crew called for help and drove them to Modena, where an ambulance was summoned.

"They were walking," said Iron County Search and Rescue commander Charlie Morris. "The vehicle, I understand, is a little further into Beaver County. They'd been walking for a while."

Hulet said the couple had been walking through four-foot snowdrifts with their dog, Medusa.

"It was wonderful to find them," he told the Deseret Morning News. "She was hugging and crying."

The couple and their dog arrived at the Cedar City hospital in a single ambulance about 5:15 p.m.

Medical crews first brought Tamitha Garner out on a stretcher. She was covered with a blanket. Medusa was quite frisky and bounded out of the ambulance. Officials put a leash on the dog and handed her over to an animal control officer.

Tom Garner exited the ambulance on his own power. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses, and a blanket had been thrown over his shoulders. He stepped gingerly out of the ambulance and was helped into a wheelchair.

Asked how he was doing, he said in a strong voice, "Good!" Then he looked into the cameras of the news crews and said, "Hi, Ma." He was then taken into the hospital to be evaluated.

"Quite frankly, you can't describe it," said Tom's father, Gerald Garner. "There are no words to describe it. The emotions are just running wild. There have been millions of people here, and I've been hugging everybody."

Law enforcement officials in Utah and Nevada had planned a few more searches in the high-country desert near the border but acknowledged that their search was starting to wind down. An airplane and a snowmobile crew had been searching remote Iron County again on Wednesday.

Many were stunned that they were found alive and well.

"After 10 days, they're alive!" said Lincoln County, Nev., Sheriff Kerry Lee, whose office headed up the search effort.

"It was right where searchers have been flying, right where the snowmobiles have been. We just didn't see them," Lee said.

Searchers had covered thousands of miles of rugged terrain seeking the Garners, who had been seen last on Jan. 26 buying gas at a Panaca, Nev., station. They told family members they were going out into the rural area to photograph wild horses.

Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower said that the couple had been hiking since Monday. They would stop at night and make a fire, using matches, lighters and a can of aerosol carburetor fluid Tom Garner had found in his truck.

"I never gave up," Gerald Garner said. "I know my boy is resourceful, intelligent. He's an Eagle Scout. I knew he could make the right decisions to benefit their wellbeing and, obviously, he did."

Air and ground searches had turned up nothing until late Wednesday afternoon. Family and friends also had done some searching on their own, but authorities discouraged them because of the danger.

"This morning we were just not feeling as optimistic as we had been," said Tom's sister-in-law, Ange Garner. "It's fabulous news."

On Saturday, volunteer Iron County Search and Rescue team member Leroy Davenport was searching an area about 80 miles from Cedar City when he got stuck in the snow. After exerting himself to get free, Davenport, 37, went home complaining that he wasn't feeling well, Gower said.

He died early Sunday morning. An autopsy will determine his exact cause of death.

In a statement, the Garners' daughter, Krystal, extended her sympathies and gratitude for Davenport.

"To us, his sacrifice is no different than a police officer, firefighter or soldier laying down their life for their country," she said.

Copyright 2008 The Deseret News Publishing Co.

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