TWIN FALLS — When the Golays get together, even 11 years later, they still talk about that night.
“The story has been told so many times,” Mark Golay, 25, remembered last month. “I have friends who give me crap about it to this day.”
The story, simply told: Brent Golay, 54 at the time, and 14-year-old son Mark go for a South Hills snowmobile ride in January 2006. As the weather deteriorates, they get one machine stuck, then both. They huddle together, surviving a freezing night in the open with no fire, tent or blankets. The next day, they’re rescued.
Their story is just one of many tales of people lost in south-central Idaho, but one of the most remarkable accounts of survival in this rural, rugged land where harsh seasons and vast open spaces can get unprepared travelers in a world of trouble.
A Canadian woman survived 48 days on a starvation diet just across the Nevada border. Brent and Mark’s ordeal, on the other hand, lasted fewer than 24 hours and left no physical mark. But it still affects their lives today.
‘Our night of hell’
Brent and Mark — both with snowmobile experience but neither an expert — parked at the South Hills’ Diamondfield Jack camping area and headed out for a day of mountain riding.
“The day was great, it was nice weather,” Mark recalled in January, exactly 11 years later. “I remember we had lunch and wanted to get a couple more hours in.”
Dozens of people were out riding that day, Mark remembered, but the crowd thinned around 2 p.m. Around 3 or 4 p.m., the weather took a turn for the worse.
“I vividly remember the wind and snow picked up,” Mark said. “It started to blow hard, and it got dark quick as a cloud cover came in.”
Both snowmobiles got stuck. More experienced riders came along at the right time to help free them — and suggested the Golays follow them back.
“We were way out on powder, like 6 or 7 feet deep, which is the most fun to ride through, but harder,” Mark said. “That’s what ended up getting us stuck again — my inexperience, and the older-model sled I was riding.”
Trailing behind the big group, Mark couldn’t make his cries for help heard over the chorus of engines. Brent turned and saw Mark far behind but couldn’t get the attention of the riders in front. As Brent spun around to help his son, the others roared back to the parking lot, unaware of the Golays’ situation.
“I remember very well, by that time it was a whiteout, we couldn’t see five feet in front of us, we couldn’t see anything,” Mark said. “I started thinking: We better get out now or we’re not going to get out.”
But the Golays alone couldn’t dig out Mark’s sled. So Brent decided: They’d leave the machine and come back for it another day. Mark hopped on the back of Brent’s machine — but soon it, too, was stuck.
“It was getting dark really fast, and I remember him saying, ‘Start looking for dry firewood,’” Mark recalled. “The look on his face — it wasn’t like, ‘This might happen.’ I knew right then we were definitely staying out there.”
The Golays had a small survival kit and tried to start a fire, but howling wind thwarted their efforts. They huddled together under a tree, their arms tucked inside their jackets, and slept for just minutes at a time.
“A lot of stuff was going through my mind, like my mom is going to be freaking out,” Mark said. “Also, my dad had a heart attack three or four year prior. He was healthy, but not the strongest. He was damn near shaking me, just trembling. I didn’t want to go to sleep and wake up and my dad be passed out.”
As the night wore on and the cold deepened, Mark’s faith wavered.
“It never crossed my mind we wouldn’t make it through the night until about halfway through the night,” Mark said. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind at some point that we could very well die out here. But my dad, I guarantee he never let that cross his mind. Fake it till you make it, you know? He toughed it out, and we woke up the next morning.”
At first light, father and son started walking. Brent was in bad shape, Mark remembered, “damn near crawling on his hands and knees.”
As they found a main road, they began seeing signs of the search. A plane and helicopter flew overhead. On a faraway ridge, they saw about 20 snowmobilers in high-visibility clothing. Two older men approached on snowmobiles, asked the key question and gave the Golays a ride back to Diamondfield Jack.
At the parking lot, they were swarmed by news crews. Medical personnel checked them for frostbite, and they were given blankets, water and warm food.
“Honestly, I don’t even remember what kind of food it was,” Mark said. “I know it was hot. Some kind of soup? I hardly remember if I even ate it.”
Mostly, he was in shock — at the news crews, at the number of searchers who’d been rallied, at what he’d been through.
“I was not expecting what was there after our night of hell,” Mark said. “I think during a live interview I said the F-word. It was very surreal, almost like a dream.”
Mark’s mother, who worked the phone all night helping the search effort, was thrilled to hear her son and ex-husband were safe.
His father, meanwhile, was still thinking straight.
“They asked us if we wanted to ride back with the EMTs or with one of the TV news stations,” Mark said, laughing. “My dad chose to ride with the blonde reporter.”
Mark went to the school the next day as a hero. Brent, embarrassed that they weren’t better prepared, spent the next month buying survival gear and making sure every family vehicle was prepared for an emergency.
The Times-News article Mark saved is a prized piece of family memorabilia.
“I’m proud of it. I don’t think I would change anything about it,” Mark said. “Even how hard it was on my dad, I wouldn’t change it. I was proud of it. Proud of my dad, and proud we got out.”
Why did he do it?
Though Twin Falls County offers beautiful scenery — the rolling South Hills, Dierkes Lake, the Snake River Canyon, Balanced Rock — the county can prove dangerous and deadly for those who get lost. This is especially true in winter and spring, when snow and snowmelt make travel treacherous.
In March 2010, a 66-year-old Owyhee County man who possibly suffered from dementia came to Twin Falls to get work done on his Ford F-250. He never returned home.
Four days after his family reported him missing, a snowmobiler happened upon Ted Thomason’s pickup stuck in the snow and mud on Shoshone Basin Road, a rural dirt road east of U.S. 93 near Rogerson. His heeler was barking nearby.
“The right rear tire had worn bald while spinning in place, exposing the inner wires,” Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Sgt. Daron Brown wrote.
The keys were still in the ignition, but Thomason was nowhere to be seen.
“I think he just got turned around and lost,” his son, L.D. Thomason, told the Times-News during the search.
Ted Thomason had last been seen March 9 at Les Schwab in Twin Falls, where he paid $400 for work on his truck. Family members believed Thomason had gone to Mountain Home after his Twin Falls trip. When his son learned that wasn’t the case, he reported Thomason missing. By then, it was likely too late; it was four days since Thomason’s trip to Twin Falls, and six days since he’d last talked to L.D.
Search crews from Twin Falls and Owyhee counties went to work, but as the days passed, the family accepted the reality of the situation.
“We’ll find him,” L.D. Thomason said March 17. “But he’s not going to be alive.”
Hours after that somber prediction, rescuers found Thomason’s body a little more than a mile from his truck. The coroner determined Thomason died from hypothermia.
Neither searchers nor family members know what led him onto the muddy, snow-covered road.
Rescue turns into arrest
More people get lost in the South Hills than anywhere else in Twin Falls County, though the Snake River Canyon can also prove tricky to navigate, especially at night or in bad weather.
That was the case last October when Kenneth Walls and Mary Ellen Huber embarked on an evening hike near Pillar Falls as a rainstorm bore down on the region.
Both survived, but their rescue took an unexpected twist.
Walls, 42, first called 911 about 11:40 p.m. Oct. 16, telling dispatchers that he and Huber, 39, were lost and stranded in the dark and rain. He reported they were uninjured but extremely cold and wet.
Officers and paramedics jumped into action, descending into the canyon several hundred feet before discovering the lost hikers. The rescuers were soon joined by search and rescue volunteers, firefighters and the Special Operations Reach and Treat team from Magic Valley Paramedics.
Walls was able to hike out of the canyon on his own; Huber was not. SORT team members rappelled to Huber and hoisted her to safety about 3 a.m.
The rescue wasn’t as straightforward as it first seemed.
Huber was taken to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, released and promptly arrested when law enforcement discovered she was wanted on a $5,000 misdemeanor warrant.
Huber was accused of resisting or obstructing arrest, a charge that stemmed from a July incident in which she was a passenger in a car that fled police. Prosecutors have since dropped the charge.
Roads best avoided
Magic Valley off the beaten path can be treacherous for small cars, especially when dirt roads turn to mush. Without high-clearance four-wheel drive, many rural roads simply shouldn’t be attempted.
At 73, Lourl Jay Draper found this out the hard way.
In late March 2015, the Twin Falls man took his Hyundai Elantra for a drive with his dog near Salmon Falls Dam. The small sedan high-centered on a rock, stranding Draper, who later told deputies he didn’t try to walk out for help because he believed he was at least 30 miles from town.
It’s unclear how long Draper was stranded because he couldn’t remember what day he went for his drive. And according to the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, nobody reported him missing. But on April 3, an off-duty Twin Falls Police officer discovered Draper and his dog in the disabled Elantra.
“Draper was extremely dehydrated,” Deputy Levi Meyer wrote, describing him as “semi-delirious and weak.”
Draper’s dog was taken to an animal shelter for safekeeping while Draper was taken to a hospital, where he recovered enough from dehydration and delirium to answer the deputy’s questions.
In August that year, Draper died at 74. It’s unclear whether his death was related to his ordeal just months before.
Not all wanderers are lost
Sometimes, those who are missing don’t want to be found. Or aren’t lost at all.
In November 2014, the sheriff’s office searched for Richard Skelton in the South Hills. As it turned out, the Twin Falls man wasn’t missing there, because he’d gotten a ride into town from former Times-News opinion editor Jon Alexander, who was unaware of the search until later.
The original story, the one that prompted the search, went like this: Skelton was camping with others in the South Hills when he took off in his Nissan pickup. He was due back in camp later that night, but when he never showed up, a friend reported him missing.
Deputies and search and rescue volunteers found Skelton’s abandoned pickup and searched the area on snowshoes that Saturday. On Sunday, they searched on the ground and in the air.
But Skelton was back in Twin Falls after catching a ride with Alexander, who recounted the incident by phone this month:
“I was driving to the South Hills, we were going and he was heading out on this contraption that looked like a snowboard meets a bicycle,” Alexander said. “He was riding it down the hill.”
After a few hours in the mountains, Alexander and his friend headed back toward Twin Falls.
“We come out, and we see the device he was riding in the snowbank. And a little way down the hill, he’s walking, and he’s clearly cold.”
Alexander offered Skelton a ride.
“He seemed nice; there were no real red flags,” Alexander said. “We talked about hunting and fishing, and asked him about whatever that thing was he was riding. He seemed like a good guy.”
Alexander dropped off Skelton at a house in downtown Twin Falls. Later that day, Alexander saw a press release from the sheriff’s office about a theft from a shed at Magic Mountain Resort.
“The thing he was riding, it wasn’t his, allegedly,” Alexander said. “I called the sheriff and said, ‘I think I helped that guy escape.’”
After speaking with Alexander and others, the sheriff’s office called off the search, saying Skelton was no longer believed to be lost or in danger.
Court records show no charge related to the incident.
Rescued just in time
For those who die after getting lost, it’s impossible to know at what moment, if ever, they resign themselves to their fate. But the story of Rose Louise Swan offers a glimpse of what a lost traveler’s last moments might be like.
Eight years before her 2012 death, Swan was sure she was going to die. The Twin Falls woman was 62 in March 2004 when she got lost trying to drive from Buhl to Filer. Stuck on a remote stretch of road in Owyhee County, she took off on foot with a bottle of Tylenol, a can of Spam and her dachshund, Junior.
After surviving 2 1/2 days in the cold and snow, Swan could no longer walk on an ankle she’d sprained when she tripped in the snow. She was exhausted and dehydrated.
After her rescue, she told a reporter from her hospital bed that she lay in the snow and made her peace with God.
“It really got me thinking about life,” she said. “We all have a chance on Earth to redeem ourselves.”
But Swan wasn’t taken away by heavenly beings. Instead, she was found by rescue crews on four-wheelers from Twin Falls and Owyhee counties. They hurried her into a sleeping bag and airlifted her to St. Luke’s Magic Valley.
Swan said her rescuers estimated she walked eight miles from her car.
Experts advise lost or stranded motorists to stay with their vehicles. A car can offer protection from the elements and is easier for rescue crews to find. If Swan had done that, she would have been rescued a day earlier when crews found her car.
She didn’t take off into the snowy desert totally unprepared, though. Having extra clothes in her car, she put on several layers before abandoning the vehicle. She also brought the Spam that she shared with her dog, and the Tylenol that dulled the pain after she fell on her knees and sprained her ankle. She held Junior close to her chest to share body heat.
A retired nutrition teacher, Swan was surprised by her ability to endure dehydration, hypothermia, bruised knees and the sprained ankle. She spent a stint in the hospital but survived and lived another eight years, dying in 2012 at 71.
So close to home
Not everywhere people get lost is way out in the boondocks. Case in point: Devil’s Corral.
The area north of the Snake River Canyon, just across from the lights of Twin Falls, can get people turned around and disoriented quickly. Just ask Jerome County Sheriff Doug McFall.
“Where we usually have people calling in for help is Devil’s Corral,” McFall said in December. “One night I was out there, we were looking for somebody, and all the sudden off to my left, I see the lights, the city of Twin Falls. I was turned around completely.”
In the dark, miles of rocks and brush and knobby hills all look the same.
David Guymon had a similar experience in November 2011. The Jerome man went off-roading at dusk, but when the sun set he became disoriented. Guymon’s wife reported him missing. Search and rescue crews found his truck and trailer but couldn’t track down Guymon on the ground.
Guymon was in a recessed area, so deputies couldn’t spot him. And the battery on his ATV died as Guymon attempted to signal rescuers with his headlight.
Jerome deputies called in the help of Air St. Luke’s, and the helicopter’s searchlight spotted Guymon about 9 p.m.
Even then, the predicament wasn’t over. Rescuers on the ground still needed several hours to reach him because of the rough terrain. A four-wheel-drive truck didn’t have enough clearance, so deputies went on ATV and on foot, often becoming lost themselves.
Finally, they reached Guymon and jump-started his battery. He was uninjured and in good condition despite the cold.
‘The people suffering’
When someone goes missing, it’s often traumatic for both the one who’s lost and his loved ones. Other times, only the lost person struggles, while friends and family remain ignorant until it’s too late.
And rarely, just the loved ones suffer.
Ian Reed waited comfortably to be rescued in late 2005, when at 20 he attempted an ill-advised shortcut through the mountains from Boise to Hailey on unplowed Boise National Forest roads. About halfway there, in the Trinity Mountains northwest of the Pine-Featherville area, Reed’s car got stuck as he climbed Steel Mountain.
In a later interview, Reed admitted the route was careless.
“I think if I’d thought about it, I wouldn’t have done it,” Reed said. “It really wasn’t a good plan. I hadn’t thought it over.”
But Reed was raised on survival books, courses and concepts. He had four sleeping bags in his Subaru. He had a hunting bow, if it came to that. And he melted snow using his car’s warm engine, knowing that eating snow can pull moisture from your mouth and cause hypothermia.
“This was like a four-day fast for me,” Reed said. “I never felt like I was in danger. You can go 30 days pretty comfortably without food if you have enough water … I figured there was a pretty good chance I would have survived a month. I wasn’t sure about longer, but I was trying for the month.”
While Reed passed the time with a marketing textbook, his family’s concern turned to worry, then panic.
Reed went missing on Monday, Nov. 28, but his family in Hailey didn’t realize that until Tuesday, unaware he’d tried the mountain shortcut. They figured he was taking highways and had stopped along the way Monday. When they found out from a friend Tuesday about Reed’s shortcut, they became frantic.
On Wednesday, his father and stepmother in Hailey teamed up with his mother and stepfather in Boise to retrace Reed’s path.
“We drove 12 hours on those terrible roads in the snow,” his mother, Lea Flocchini, told a reporter. “Once, we saw his tracks, but we didn’t know they were his. We couldn’t find his car.”
“We decided we needed the professionals,” said his father, James Reed.
On Thursday, Elmore County search and rescue crews began looking for Reed, blasting through the snow on snowmobiles. On Friday, a Black Hawk from Mountain Home Air Force Base joined the search.
In the late afternoon Friday, a National Guard pilot was preparing to turn around to refuel when he spotted Reed, waving an orange vest atop his car.
“They dropped a package of food and water and went away,” Reed said. “I figured they were looking for a place to land.”
The helicopter had to return to Mountain Home to refuel, but the pilot reported he’d found Reed, whose parents were doing a TV interview when they got word. They screamed with joy and cried, all of it captured on camera.
An Elmore County search and rescue team wasn’t far from Reed’s car, and they packed down a landing zone for the helicopter. Reed was reunited with his family when the chopper touched down in Boise.
“All I had to do was wait to be found,” Reed said. “The people suffering were my parents … I wasn’t worried about me out there, I was worried about my parents and everybody who was thinking about me.”
Preparation + luck
Preparation can be the difference between life and death when someone gets lost. Good fortune also helps.
Luckily for Inkom’s John Davis, he was both well prepared and extremely lucky in 2004 when a snowshoe trip in Cassia County’s Cotterel Mountains turned into a two-night fight for his life.
Davis, 56 at the time, was an Idaho Public Television engineer. On a Friday afternoon in early February, Davis snowshoed to a transmission tower to make repairs. He spent the night in a building near the tower and planned the next day to snowshoe back to his vehicle, parked along Idaho 77.
But a heavy snowstorm moved in, dumping more than 16 inches of fresh powder at nearby Pomerelle Mountain Resort, and Davis got lost early Saturday.
The search began that afternoon after Davis called his wife. At one point Sunday, he phoned 911 but dispatchers were unable to pinpoint his location. It wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. Monday that snowmobilers found him. Davis spent about 48 hours in the cold without food or water before flagging down members of the Mount Harrison Snowmobile Club, among more than 100 people who joined the search.
“He was very well dressed for winter,” then-Cassia County Sheriff Jim Higens said at the time. “The weather wasn’t pretty at all. Fortunately the temperatures were above freezing, but it was still chilly.”
Davis suffered dehydration, but not hypothermia or frostbite.
“It is amazing to me that he survived,” Higens said, crediting Davis’ warm clothes and good physical condition.
And the luck?
One of the search snowmobiles got stuck and its engine stalled. It was only with the engine off that the rider could hear Davis hollering from a nearby ridge.
‘How in the world ... ?’
Sometimes, you must heed your own advice. That was the case for a Burley mother who got lost after warning her son and nephew.
In July 1997, Norma Ferch and Andy Slagel went hiking with Ferch’s son and nephew on Cache Peak west of Oakley. The four spent the day fishing at Independence Lakes.
On the way down the mountain, Norma told her son, Travis, and his cousin, Joshua, both 15, to stop and wait on the trail if they thought they might get lost. But it was Ferch and Slagel who wandered off the path.
The boys, who raced down ahead of the adults, were waiting at the trailhead when Idaho Department of Fish and Game officer Michael Stoddard happened upon them. Stoddard waited with the boys for several hours before going in search of the adults. When he didn’t find them, he called them in missing.
Cassia County Search and Rescue arrived with a search dog and began to comb the hillside.
“I didn’t want my mom to get hurt,” Travis told a reporter. “There are a lot of mountain lions up there.”
As darkness settled in, Ferch and Slagel stopped for the night, in part because of Slagel’s bad knees. Ferch said she wanted to get off the mountain that night, “but Andy convinced me it was too dark to try that.”
The couple had a tarp and made a fire, but it offered little warmth. The next morning, they made their way to a stream, where they cooked and ate their trout caught the previous day. After their meal, they wandered in search of the trail until rescuers spotted them near Ottley Ranch in Elba.
“I was thrilled to see them,” Ferch told the Times-News after her rescue. “When we got back to the trailhead, there were a lot of people there; they were really on the ball.”
But Ferch was most concerned about Travis and Joshua. She worried the whole night that her son and nephew might be in a similar predicament.
“That’s all I could think about,” she said. “I just knew the boys were off somewhere cold and hungry.”
She was overjoyed to learn the teens were safe. And when she was reunited with her son, he had a question for her.
“Mother, how in the world did you get lost?”
One wrong turn
Just one wrong turn can make all the difference. Zoe Johnson learned the hard way in September 2015 while camping in the South Hills.
Zoe, 61 at the time, and her husband, Alfred, 60, decided to go camping on the spur of the moment, Alfred told searchers later. They brought their dog but in their haste forgot to pack dog food and a leash.
After an argument, Alfred drove to Rock Creek General Store to buy pet supplies, while Zoe tried to walk home with the dog.
Almost immediately, she took a wrong turn out of the campground. Instead of walking a short distance to the main road, she walked several miles in the wrong direction. When Alfred returned to the campsite, Zoe and the dog were gone.
Alfred sought the help of Forest Service employees cleaning bathrooms nearby. Cassia County Sheriff’s deputies checked the couple’s home to see if Zoe was given a ride; not finding her there, they launched a search.
A friend of the family, a pilot, offered to take up his plane. He spotted Zoe walking a trail about two miles north of Magic Mountain Resort. Zoe and the dog were thirsty but unharmed.
Call it fate, call it intuition, or call it divine intervention. Something special led rescuers to find Scott Laib 20 years ago in the South Hills.
The Rupert man went snowmobiling in March 1997 but became stranded when he lost his machine in a canyon. Luckily, Laib was an early adopter of technology and was riding with a cellphone. He made contact with emergency crews and tried to lead them to his location.
Search teams from Mini-Cassia and Twin Falls County went to work looking for Laib with more than 30 snowmobiles involved. Bad weather hampered the search, both on the ground and in the air. Even so, searchers worked through the night, making penultimate contact with Laib on his cellphone about 2:30 a.m.
“He was trying to give us directions to where he was,” then-Cassia County Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Higens said at the time. ”Unfortunately, he was off several miles.”
The next day, two Civil Air Patrol pilots waited for a break in the weather. When they finally got it about 3:20 p.m., they took off to join the search, with Gary Thietten piloting and Jim Davidson acting as spotter.
The best clues the pilots had: Laib was on a ridge and had been walking a fence line. From the information Laib gave, Davidson was convinced he was farther west than expected, outside the search area.
As they flew over the South Hills, Laib saw the plane and used his dying cellphone to make one last call. He told dispatchers the plane should turn west, toward the sun.
The message was never relayed.
“We were never told that,” Thietten said at the time. “We’d had radio silence for 10 or 15 minutes.”
A short while later, the plane turned toward Laib anyway at the behest of Davidson, who was following the ridges where he thought Laib might be. Thietten questioned the decision to turn outside of the search area but followed his spotter’s direction anyway. A mile later, they spied Laib waiving from a ridge.
“We flew right over the top of him,” Thietten said.
They directed a helicopter to Laib’s location, and he was rescued after 25 hours in the cold.
“I don’t know why he wanted me to turn left,” Thietten said of Davidson. “Call it luck, or call it guidance.”
Laib’s wife had another theory about her husband’s last call.
“She told me, ‘The message must not have gotten to the dispatcher,’” Thietten said. “’But it got to the big dispatcher.’”
A year of lost hunters
Out in the wilderness and open spaces of southern Idaho, it’s not hard to get lost. After a few hours outdoors, ridges look the same, river bends become indistinguishable, and haven’t we passed that landmark already?
The confusion can be pronounced for hunters, often more focused on tracking prey than memorizing their routes.
In the year from November 2005 to October 2006, at least three hunters got lost in Mini-Cassia.
In November, Rupert’s Caleb Morrison, then 17, went elk hunting with his father, Steve. At about dusk, Steve watched as Caleb tracked an elk into the desert north of Paul, knowing his wait could be long if his son shot the elk. But by 1:30 a.m., he could wait no longer and alerted emergency crews.
Rescuers from Mini-Cassia and Lincoln County jumped into action, as did other nearby agencies. A helicopter with infrared search equipment joined before dawn.
Caleb was smart and resourceful, and he started a fire for a smoke signal. Rescuers spotted the thin column of smoke about 7 a.m. near Shale Butte. By 8 a.m., they spotted Caleb, though it took them another hour to make their way through craters and rocky terrain to reach him. Caleb was cold but OK.
“We had some real good support from searchers out here all night long,” then-Minidoka County Sheriff Kevin Halverson said at the time. “It’s a happy ending.”
Less than a month later came another happy ending, this time in southern Cassia County.
In the hills south of Oakley, two Twin Falls men went coyote hunting on a Sunday in December. But when Matthew Coldin, 22, and Brian Bordwyck, 21, didn’t show up that evening, family members began to worry. Coldin’s mother reported the pair missing Monday afternoon.
The Civil Air Patrol sent a plane to look for the men Monday evening, while Air St. Luke’s also searched the area. Coldin and Bordwyck were found walking on Trapper Creek Road on Tuesday morning, about 48 hours after setting off on their hunting trip. Their pickup had slid off a road at Beaver Creek, becoming disabled.
Less than a year later, in October 2006, a couple got lost while hunting in Minidoka County’s Great Rift desert and spent a cold, wet night outdoors after downing an elk.
William H. Bunn, 43, of Burley and Louanna David, 48, of Shelley had parked their pickup and taken off on four-wheelers, Bunn later told rescuers. At one point, they left their ATVs to cross the rift on foot, then tracked a herd of elk.
Bunn shot a bull elk and left David with the animal — and an emergency survival kit — to head back and retrieve an ATV so they could transport the elk. But Bunn got lost on the way. Darkness settled in, accompanied by rain.
“He was sweaty, so he kept walking all night, to stay warm and in an attempt to find his ATVs,” Minidoka County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Broner said at the time. “He was walking, trying to keep warm in a sleety rain that was falling on the desert.”
In the morning, hunters spotted Bunn and gave him a ride to his truck.
Meanwhile, David was comfortable. The survival kit included food and water, plus tools to make a fire that kept her warm through the night. She told officials she began to worry when Bunn still hadn’t arrived by sunrise, but she stayed put, believing he would show up.
Rescuers were alerted by family members, themselves alerted when Bunn’s and David’s bosses called to inquire why they hadn’t showed up to work.
Bunn “was stiff and cold and very tired, but otherwise OK,” Broner said.
David was found a short while later; thanks to the kit, Broner said, she likely could have survived another night comfortably. Rescuers helped the couple load Bunn’s five-point elk and recover the four-wheelers, but Broner said the experience should serve as a warning.
“This is why it’s important to let someone know where you plan to go hunt,” Broner said. “We really had no idea where to begin looking for the couple.”
Chased by drug dealers?
With any breaking news, the facts of an incident are subject to change as new details emerge.
Last July, a Times-News reporter got a call from a northern Idaho woman who sought help finding her boyfriend and his children. They were driving back from Arizona, she said, and looking for a shortcut through central Idaho. The last time she spoke with them, they were on a dirt road north of Shoshone.
Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies confirmed they were helping look for 29-year-old Cassius Allen and his two children. The next day, about 48 hours after Allen last made contact with his girlfriend in Potlatch, searchers in an Air St. Luke’s helicopter spotted Allen and his 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
They were “dehydrated and dirty,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Denning said at the time, but otherwise appeared in decent condition. Deputies gave them food and water while a nurse checked them.
It seemed like a joyous moment, the rescue of a father and his children lost in the desert for 48 hours. The newspaper that day reported the rescue. But the situation may not have been what it seemed.
Four days after his dramatic rescue, Allen was charged in Lincoln County Magistrate Court with two felony counts of injury to a child. Prosecutors alleged Allen was “driving recklessly while under the influence of drugs,” and that he forced the children to “travel through the desert on foot, causing dehydration and multiple cuts and abrasions” on their legs, feet, hands and arms.
In a sworn affidavit, Denning detailed the ordeal:
“While talking to Cassius Allen (shortly after the rescue) he told me that they had been chased by Mexicans with guns in Salt Lake and then chased again in Shoshone. Both children told me that their dad told them there were people chasing them and they had to speed through several towns and hide from them.”
The helicopter took the children first while Denning waited with Allen. Again, Denning asked him what happened. Again, Allen told about being chased.
“I asked him how he knew they were Mexican drug dealers. Allen said that he saw them and that they shot at his car … Allen told me they chased them into the desert where they wrecked the car and then Allen and children ran into the desert where they got lost.”
Deputies were skeptical, but they investigated anyway.
“We were unable to locate any bullet marks on the vehicle,” Denning reported. “We were unable to locate any signs of multiple vehicles in the area that may indicate Allen’s vehicle being chased or forced off road. I was unable to locate any cartridge casings from firearms either.”
At the hospital, the children told Denning of their father’s erratic behavior between Salt Lake City and Shoshone. “They said that Allen drove over 100 mph through stop signs, traffic lights and would exit the freeway and hide them in dark places by homes or different areas.”
Both children said Allen seemed to see things that weren’t there. “At one point Allen accused (his son) of ‘working for them,’ making him empty his pockets looking for a microphone and slapping him in the face.”
After wrecking the car, the children said, Allen forced them to hide in the brush from Mexicans with rifles. Allen’s daughter lost her sandal while fleeing through the lava rock, but her father wouldn’t let her go back and get it.
The children told Denning that Allen kept them moving for two days in the desert.
Preliminary blood tests showed Allen tested positive for meth, amphetamines and ethanol, Denning wrote.
The children’s mother came from Arizona to pick up the kids. Allen was arrested upon his release from the hospital. Court records show prosecutors dismissed the case in September.
The longer someone is lost, the less likely it becomes they’ll be found alive. Food and water supplies, if there were any, dwindle. Temperature extremes and dehydration wreak havoc on the body. Search efforts that start strong taper out.
When days turn to months, the hope of rescue is nearly gone. Perhaps all that remains is the hope of recovering a body.
Once in a while, there is a miracle. In 2011, that miracle was Rita Eleanor Chretien.
In March, Rita, 56 at the time, and her husband, 59-year-old Albert, left their home in British Columbia for a Las Vegas trade show. Traveling in a 2000 Chevrolet Astro van, they took a route off the beaten path through northern Nevada.
Their map made an old Forest Service Road near the Bruneau River look more passable than it was, their son Raymond later told reporters. Without winter clothes and with minimal food, they became stuck on a muddy dirt road miles from civilization in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in northern Elko County, near the Idaho border.
The last anyone saw the couple was at a gas station in Baker City, Ore. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police joined the search along with crews from Oregon, Idaho and Nevada. They searched for weeks until tips stopped coming in.
“Rationally, part of you does let go,” said Jennifer Chretien, Rita’s daughter-in-law, at a press conference in May.
Nearly seven weeks passed, leaving no logical hope Rita or Albert would be found alive.
Then, on May 6, an Elko County dispatcher received a 911 call. Three northern Nevada residents riding ATVs had found the Chretiens’ van. And Rita was alive inside.
“We were praying for a miracle, and boy did we get one,” son Raymond Chretien said. “It was the biggest miracle we could ask for.”
The ATV riders tried to give Rita food and water, but she couldn’t keep it down. They rode nine miles to find cell service so they could call in their incredible discovery.
After her rescue, Rita told authorities what happened: After losing their way and getting stuck March 19, the couple stayed together with the van for three days. On March 22, armed with a GPS, Albert took off on foot to seek help.
As the days wore on, Rita relied on a nearby stream and melted snow for water. Each day, she ate one fish oil pill, one hard candy and about a tablespoon of trail mix. She read books, including the Bible, but after nearly seven weeks stranded and alone, she was ready to give up.
She prepared herself to die.
The next day, Rita heard the ATVs and within hours was flown to St. Luke’s Magic Valley.
After the discovery, search efforts reignited for her husband, and this time searchers had a better idea where to look. From the van, they knew, Albert tried to walk to Nevada 225.
Still, they couldn’t find him or his remains. More than a year passed before Rita returned to Twin Falls on Sept. 16, 2012, to share her incredible survival story at the First Church of the Nazarene.
Just 13 days after Rita’s return to the Magic Valley, as if summoned by her presence, Albert’s remains were discovered by hunters in a heavily wooded area of Merritt Mountain. The family finally had closure.
As for Rita’s recovery in May 2011, Dr. James Westberry at St. Luke’s said she was in remarkably good shape after surviving so long. She should have been more malnourished than she was, even emaciated, with possible long-term health problems. Instead, she was in good condition when she arrived, and her recovery was rapid. After four days, she was transferred to a hospital closer to home in British Columbia.
Westberry speculated Rita’s survival on a starvation diet might be a record.
“It’s understandable,” he said at a press conference, “to call it a miracle.”
What went so wrong?
When lost people die, it’s nearly impossible to know exactly what went wrong, when and where it went wrong, or why. Perhaps enough clues exist to piece together a plausible theory. Even then, questions linger.
In September 2013, Boise residents Amelia Christine Linkert, 69, and Dr. Jodean Kay Elliott-Blakeslee, 63, visited Craters of the Moon National Monument. At the end of the popular tourist loop, it appears they planned a short walk on the Tree Molds Trail, into jagged black lava.
Both experienced hikers and campers, they apparently didn’t plan to walk far. They set off without food, water, protective clothing or cellphones. They left their two dogs in their pickup, something friends and family say they wouldn’t have done for an extended period.
That’s what investigators know. But what went wrong? What caused the women to become lost, or disoriented, or incapacitated? What led to their demise?
What is well documented is the massive search effort, which didn’t begin until several days after the women went missing. By then, perhaps, it was too late.
Linkert and Elliott-Blakeslee were last seen in Arco on Sept. 19. Scheduled to return Sept. 21 to Boise, they weren’t reported missing until Sept. 23 when Elliott-Blakeslee, a doctor at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Ore., didn’t show up for work.
The search began Sept. 24, and one of the bodies was discovered Sept. 25, originally reported to be the body of Elliott-Blakeslee. A coroner later realized the body was misidentified. It was Linkert.
“It definitely looked like she had gotten lost and was trying to hike out,” Butte County Sheriff Wes Collins said.
The search for Elliott-Blakeslee’s body intensified in the following days. Craters staff were joined by friends and family members of the women. Dog teams were called in to help, and the Army National Guard sent two Black Hawk helicopters.
One Bureau of Land Management employee, Dan Paulson, set out on a 150-mile solo trip looking for the doctor’s body, taking only two days off between Oct. 3 and Oct. 21. He found makeshift walking sticks near where Linkert’s body was discovered, theorizing that she struggled at the end but showed a lot of character.
The day after his solo effort ended, searchers found Elliott-Blakeslee’s body with the help of a helicopter.
But neither body provided answers. One right-wing website claimed, “Wolves kill female hikers, liberals cover it up,” spreading a conspiracy theory in which the federal government needed to hide wolf kills to keep the animal on the endangered species registry. The site offered no proof to substantiate the claim.
A more plausible explanation offered by officials: Elliott-Blakeslee may have been injured during the walk and Linkert, who would have turned 70 the day after her body was found, went for help but never made it.
‘This is going to hurt’
When someone gets lost in south-central Idaho’s wilderness, he’s often found within a few miles of a trail or road. After all, he had to get into the backcountry somehow, and unless he’s on a recreational vehicle, he usually doesn’t get far.
But on an August afternoon in 2012, two men fell from the sky.
British paraglider Guy Anderson, 49 at the time, and Venezuelan paraglider Juan Becerra — both competing in the 2012 Paragliding World Cup in Sun Valley — crashed in separate incidents on Saturday, Aug. 25.
Search and rescue crews had a general sense of where the men might be based on where they took off, where they were headed, and information from tracking devices.
Becerra reported an emergency about 4:20 p.m. near Flat Top Ranch, north of Carey. Searchers located his glider and pack about 11:30 that night, and Becerra was found about an hour later, unharmed.
Anderson’s experience was more harrowing.
Attempting around midday to fly from Bald Mountain to Arco, Anderson hit a patch of bad weather that had forced other pilots to land early.
“I was hoping I would get a big thermal that would lift me out,” Anderson later told the United Kingdom’s Independent newspaper.
Instead, his wing collapsed.
“I had just enough time to think, ‘Right, this is going to hurt,’” Anderson told the British paper. “And thump, I went down.”
Blood poured from the bridge of his nose, cut by his sunglasses. His left arm was broken, and he guessed ribs might be broken because he couldn’t twist his body. His urine was stained with blood, suggesting internal injuries.
He snapped a selfie of his face injury and sucked on oxygen from a cylinder he carried, then made a sling for his arm and lay down for a nap.
Anderson told the Independent that a growl behind him startled him out of his sleep; too injured to turn and face what sounded like a bear, he used his phone camera flash to try to scare off the animal.
The next morning, Sunday, he decided he needed to start moving.
“I was about 30 miles down the course, so I knew I was in wild countryside and it would be a struggle to get out,” Anderson told the Independent.
Unable to walk, he began pushing himself down the mountain in a seated position. Finally, after reaching a dry creek bed, he found a walking stick and was able to stand after an hour of trying. He hobbled about a mile more until a thunderstorm erupted, drenching him. He lay down, shivering and cold as night approached, and started hallucinating.
During the night, his limbs took on human form, he told the Independent. His legs were British, his shoulder Canadian. The Brits told him they refused to walk farther.
The hallucinations continued Monday morning, as he spent several hours making it to his feet and continued downhill. A little ahead of him was a beautiful forest cabin, but when he reached the spot it was gone.
Back home, Anderson’s wife and daughters thought he must be dead. One daughter told the British paper she figured he was eaten by a bear. A fellow paraglider visited the family and shared a hard truth: Anderson’s glider was the same color as the area’s sagebrush, he said, and finding him would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
That didn’t stop the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and search and rescue crews, who called in the help of aircraft from the Civil Air Patrol and the Idaho Army National Guard. More than 70 people, including fellow paragliding pilots, searched for Anderson on the ground.
Around noon Monday, about 48 hours after his crash, Anderson saw a Black Hawk fly nearby. He put his red T-shirt on a stick and waived it above his head but thought the helicopter hadn’t spotted him.
In reality, a searcher had found his glider and spotted Anderson’s trail leading down the mountain. He radioed the coordinates to the Black Hawk crew, who spotted Anderson. An hour later, Anderson was on a rescue chopper bound for a hospital.
The medical results confirmed what Anderson knew: He was in bad shape. He had a shattered pelvis, punctured lung, lacerated kidney and broken arm. Surgeons at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise repaired the arm, and Anderson was out of the hospital a week later.
Back home across the pond, Anderson told the Independent he planned to paraglide again as soon as possible.
“I’m more convinced than ever that you have to do what you want to do in life and lead the life you’ve got, as we will all be dead soon,” Anderson told the paper. “You should not turn anything down — do it all. I am not going to … lead a duller version of my life just to extend it a bit.”