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4 incredible survival stories of stranded Utah drivers

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It seems to happen nearly every year in Utah’s backcountry. Motorists get stranded in remote areas and end up fighting to survive. It’s a battle some don’t win.

Here are four amazing stories of travelers who ended up stuck in some of Utah’s harshest environments who managed to escape with their lives. At the end are some tips to follow to make sure you don’t end up in a similar story in the future.

Texas couple survives 6 days in Grand Staircase Escalante — October 2017

Gerald Byler, 76, and his wife, Helena, 78, left a hotel in Kanab early Sept. 26 for a day trip to Lake Powell. Guided by a GPS device, they eventually found themselves on a rough, rocky road designated for four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicles.

Not wanting to turn back, they forged on until their car popped a tire and got stuck in a riverbed.

Helena Byler left her husband to try to walk out and find help. At one point, she drank rainwater from ground puddles and even her own urine to stave off dehydration. A KSL.com report quoted her as saying, “I never thought I’d do that.”

On Oct. 2, a rancher checking on his cattle found her lying in a road, dehydrated and dazed. That led searchers to the couple’s car, and they discovered Gerald in a nearby trailer.

Mother’s effort saves stranded husband and child — December 2016

Pennsylvania couple Eric and Karen Klein were driving from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon with their 10-year-old son last Christmas Eve. People magazine said their car slid into a ditch on a snowy back road.

Karen Klein, a marathon runner, elected to hike 10 miles to the nearest main road to get help while her husband and son stayed at the car. Unfortunately, when Karen reached the road it was closed. That forced her to head for the park’s main entrance, an additional 14 miles.

When she finally reached the park entrance, she found everything closed because of the snow. Suffering from cold and exhaustion, she took refuge in a nearby cabin. Meanwhile, Eric Klein climbed to higher ground, where he was able to get cellphone service and call for help.

Rescuers were separately able to reach Karen and Eric and their son. They all experienced frostbite and exposure. Emergency personnel called their survival a "Christmas miracle."

One dies, another survives after getting stranded in snowstorm — December 2012

A man and woman in their 50s were driving on snow-covered roads near Enterprise in southwestern Utah when their vehicle got stuck. Thinking they were close to town, the two elected to try to hike out, the St. George News reported.

The storm worsened and the woman could not continue. They attempted to create a shelter and the woman stayed behind while the man continued on to find help. The next day snowmobilers found the man. When rescuers reached the woman, she was already deceased.

Couple rescued after 12 days in heavy snow — January 2008

Thomas Garner, 40, and his 38-year-old wife, Tamitha, were taking photos of wild horses in the Utah desert west of Cedar City when they got stuck in late January 2008. The couple did what all survival experts advised and stayed with their vehicle, for nine days.

After realizing they might die before they were found, they abandoned their pickup to try to walk out. They cut up the seat cushions to make rudimentary snowshoes — a tip they learned from watching a television survival show, explained a CNN report.

They survived two nights and days of walking by lighting carburetor cleaner to start fires in subzero temperatures. They were finally rescued when they made it to a road and flagged down a snowplow driver.

One searcher trying to find the couple died when his snowmobile got stuck and he suffered a heart attack trying to free the machine.


Tips to avoid getting stranded

There are extra precautions you should take to be safe when traveling cross-country in winter. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration advises equipping your vehicle with a flashlight, jumper cables, abrasive material (sand, kitty litter, even floor mats), shovel, snow brush and ice scraper, flares or other warning devices and blankets.

Avoid backcountry routes unless you are familiar with the road and the current conditions. If you are going into a remote area, make sure someone is aware of your route and your expected return time.

If you are using a GPS navigation system in an unfamiliar area and it is directing you to take a route that is lightly traveled in questionable weather conditions, choose another route.

In the heat of summer or the cold of winter, Utah’s weather can be extreme and deadly. Be prepared and use common sense to avoid becoming the subject of one of these stories.