HEBER CITY — A 60-year-old snowmobiler who spent four nights alone in the woods without supplies recalls watching a rescue helicopter fly across the night sky as he crawled under a pine, believing "that was my chance. I missed it."
On Wednesday, a day after his rescue, David Hales reflected on his ordeal from a hospital bed. He said he thought Tuesday that he might not live another day as he trekked what he estimated as seven miles on his hands and knees, through a stream and up a steep slope toward U.S. 40 in remote Wasatch County.
Hales said he took a break every 10 steps or so to meditate, breathing in for three counts and exhaling for five. His legs constantly cramped up, he had a hole in one boot and he became so weak he couldn't make more than a few paces at a time.
"I wanted to lay down and just give up. You can't," said Hales, who owns a cabin in the Timberlakes area on the east side of the county, but calls North Salt Lake home.
At dusk Friday, he set out for a half-hour test drive on a neighbor's snowmobile he had just repaired. He didn't bring any supplies, water or anything to eat for the short run, he said.
Hales said he took up snowmobiling again two years ago after retiring from his job. He had gone on joy rides as a kid with family in Montana's West Yellowstone, where he said he learned never to go alone, at night or unprepared.
He didn't bring a phone Friday because "there's no cell coverage. It wouldn't even matter," he said Wednesday.
Hales mistakenly entered the Strawberry River drainage area of Wasatch County, where he ran out of gas and got stuck.
"I thought I knew the way," he said, but "I turned exactly the wrong way."
He started a fire with the vehicle's starter fluid that first night, but woke up with his pants and boot ablaze. He rolled in the snow to snuff the flames and "realized I had a giant hole in my boot now that’s going to fill full of water.”
He started walking in search of help after spending two days in the remote area and running out of firewood, but had to crawl after falling through the waist-deep snow. He ate so much snow his mouth turned numb.
When Wasatch County Search and Rescue crews spotted him Tuesday morning, "I just thought, ‘I can’t believe I made it. I put my hands up and just thought, ‘I’m going to live, thanks to them.'"
Hales said he is grateful to the rescue crews — "these people are pros" — and was anxious to see his family, which includes a puppy.
Despite overnight temperatures in the single digits each night, Hales was treated for only minor injuries, including hypothermia.
Hales said he was too excited to sleep Tuesday night and had to ask a nurse for a sleeping pill to doze off, but finally dreamed of hot chocolate and hot tubs.
Hales, the son of late Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who died in October, said he now is the caretaker of his mother. He called her as soon as he could Tuesday.
"She'll want me to promise never to do that again," he said. The experience has made him realize he wants to focus on caring for his family, training rescue dogs and simply enjoying life.
"I got closer to God through it," he said.