‘I don’t know how they did it’; Man, son walk 20 miles for help after family is stranded by bad GPS directions

Nissan SUV gets stuck in the mud and strands family of five that are rescued in the Arizona Strip, Mohave County, Ariz., Jan. 6, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A family of five was rescued after a father and son walked more than 20 miles to find help, triggering a multi-agency response that searched for the group who had been stranded in mud and snow along the Arizona Strip last week.

Map showing Black Rock Mountain where the woman and children were located and Lime Kiln Canyon area where the man and his son were found during rescue in the Arizona Strip, Mohave County, Ariz., Jan. 6, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

The incident was reported at 7 p.m. on Jan. 6 when the Mohave County Sheriff’s emergency dispatch received a call from a man who reported that he and his family were stranded after their vehicle became stuck in a remote location just south of St. George, according to a statement released by Rachel Carnahan with the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona Strip District.

The man was unable to provide specific GPS coordinates to dispatch due to the spotty cellular service in the area.

He told dispatch the family wanted to see the Grand Canyon on their way home from a vacation in California. The family used a smartphone mapping application that mistakenly directed their vehicle onto unpaved backcountry roads along the Arizona Strip at 7,500 feet elevation.

The vehicle continued along the dirt roads for more than 30 miles before it became stuck in deep mud, clay and snow.

When numerous attempts to free the SUV from the deeply rutted mud failed, the man and his teenage son set out to find help, leaving his wife and two younger children behind to take shelter inside of the vehicle.

Walking throughout the night, the pair covered more than 20 miles on foot as they tried to find their way back to town, which is when they found a spot where they had cell reception and called emergency dispatch for help.

Mohave County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Davis took the call and soon realized that if they were going to be successful in rescuing the family it would need to happen quickly as temperatures continued to drop and were below freezing.

Davis then called veteran BLM Ranger Jason Bulkley who requested assistance from National Parks Service Ranger Brice Provost. Once the two came up with a game plan they collected their gear and set out to rescue the group.

Both officers were able to determine that the man and his son were in the area of Lime Kiln Canyon on the Arizona Strip, at which point they contacted a deputy in Mesquite who was closer and responded to the area. The pair were spotted and then loaded into the patrol vehicle to warm up.

The men “were actually pretty lucky,” Bulkley said in the statement, adding both were ill-prepared for the conditions. The situation was made even worse by the fact there are so few vacationers or hikers in the vast, remote area this time of year.

Meanwhile, rangers determined that the man’s wife and children were likely on Black Rock Mountain between Cougar Spring and Maple Canyon. They made their way to the area where they were able to pick up the footprints left by the man and his son near Black Rock Mountain. The rangers were able to track the footprints back to the SUV where they found the rest of the family — tired and dehydrated, but otherwise in good health.

L-R: Bureau of Land Management veteran ranger Jason Bulkley and National Parks Service Ranger Brice Provost rescue family stranded in the Arizona Strip, Mohave County, Ariz., Jan. 6, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Both rescuers were relieved to find the trio in good condition when they pulled up to the SUV.

“It was a rough, cold night, so it was a huge relief to know that they were alive and well,” Bulkley said.

The rangers treated the family for dehydration, provided food and reassured them that the father and son were safe, to the relief of the woman. The SUV was later freed from the mud and the family continued their trip home to Colorado.

The successful outcome was in part the result of the 20-mile walk by the man and his son, which was “miraculous,” Belkley said.

“I don’t know how they did it,” he said.

It was also due to the professionalism and teamwork between the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service, BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry said in the release.

“Getting lost and stranded in freezing temperatures along the Arizona Strip, one of the most remote locations in the country, could have proven disastrous, he said. “We’re thankful that the family involved was rescued without any injuries or loss of life.”

While Google Maps and other smartphone apps can be a great help while traveling, motorists should always double-check directions and the location of their destination using other sources, as outdated maps often result in the delivery of faulty directions, and roads can also change significantly in relatively short periods of time.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!