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Utah Travel Headlines

Monday, July 16, 2012

Amazing Rescue - Man Found Alive After Wandering Three Weeks In Utah Desert

Often these articles do not have a happy ending. But this one does, and has enough intrigue to warrant another Hollywood Movie. An autistic man was recently rescued after spending three weeks wandering down the Escalante River, trying to get from the town of Boulder to Lake Powell and then to Page Arizona.

The guy was nearly starved to death, surviving by eating roots and a frog while fighting his way through one of the most remote and rugged areas in the United States.

Stories about the rescue have now been carried by newspapers around the world. The LA Times has this account. Below are excerpts.

(Sheriff's spokeswoman Becki) Bronson told The Times that the desert landscape from which LaFever was plucked is as inhospitable as Mars.

“It’s a place where they hold outdoor survival classes, a mixture of jagged lava rock and slippery sandstone, heavy sagebrush and juniper trees, desert terrain marked by sheer cliffs,” she said. “This is some of the most unforgiving terrain you will find anywhere on Earth. Where he was – there just isn’t anyone out there. There are no people. There are no towns."

Consider these odds: Deputy Ray Gardner, who participated in LaFever’s rescue, had recently completed training in search and rescue operations for people with autism. That training taught him that those with autism are naturally drawn to water, so the helicopter search focused on the Escalante River.

The rescue team planned to fly the river and turn around at Lake Powell. “That would have been, like, ‘Well, we tried,’” Bronson said. “There was absolutely no expectation of finding him. It was a shot in the dark."

On Thursday afternoon, just a few miles before reaching Lake Powell and their turnaround point, the searchers spotted a figure sitting in the middle of the river, waving weakly.

She said LaFever told his rescuers that he rolled to the river bank at night for sleep and then rolled back in the water the following morning. “He was able to lift his arms and try to wave at them, and that’s it,” Bronson said. “He couldn’t move, couldn’t stand on his own, when they found him he couldn’t even crawl.”

The Escalante River canyons are extremely beautiful but very rugged and remote. Serious backpackers with the latest technical gear love to explore the area but few make it all the way down to Lake Powell. It's incredibly big, difficult country.

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