clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Hiker trapped in Utah quicksand recalls harrowing ordeal

'I didn't feel like I was going to make it out,' Arizona hiker says

SALT LAKE CITY — Ryan Osmun admits he had doubts he would ever make it out of Zion National Park.

"The water was so cold, I thought I was going to lose my leg," Osmun told "Good Morning America" about becoming trapped in quicksand in the middle of a creek.

"I was in the water for 11 hours total. There were two snowstorms while I was waiting, just sitting in the water. It was just pouring snow."

Osmun, 34, and his girlfriend, Jessika McNeill, made the rounds on national morning TV shows Tuesday, recounting their harrowing experience and their dramatic rescue.

Osmun, of Mesa, Arizona, and McNeill went hiking in the Left Fork of North Creek, also known as the Subway, on Saturday.

About four hours into the hike, the couple got stuck in quicksand.

"I sank first and then he came and got me, and then he sank," McNeill told the "Today" show.

Then one of Osmun's legs became stuck in quicksand and he couldn't move.

"There was no chance of moving it at all. The sand had surrounded the whole leg and I couldn't move it," he told "CBS This Morning." "The best way to describe it would be … standing in a huge puddle of concrete that basically dries instantly."

McNeill said she tried to help him out.

"I told him to use my body to pull himself. But he’s obviously twice my size, so that wasn’t working. He eventually told me I needed to leave him to hike back to get cell service,” she told ABC News.

Osmun put on his best face as he encouraged her to get help, but said, "I thought for sure when she left that I would lose my leg. … I didn’t know if I would see her again.

"When she left, I was really scared, mostly for her," Osmun continued. "I just hoped the best for her, honestly, because I didn't feel like I was going to make it out."

Likewise, McNeill called her hike out of the canyon "the hardest thing I’ve had to do, scariest thing. I didn’t even know if I would be able to do that hike by myself," she told ABC News. "There was a couple of times I thought I might as well turn back and we can be together for the last moments."

But instead of hiking back the same way they came, McNeill said she decided to wade down through the rapids of the frigid river. "I did realize the fastest way to get back was not switchbacking and trying to stay on the ground, I just decided to swim down the river," she told "Today."

"I kept telling myself he would do it for me. … I'm just so close and to make it and do it for him."

After three hours, she finally had cellphone service and called 911. "I was on the line with 911 and I realized I was going to faint right there," she told NBC News.

Park rangers immediately responded to the mouth of the canyon. As McNeill was attended to by officials, rescuers began their journey into the Subway area of the park. Because there is essentially only one way to go in the slot canyon, officials knew they'd eventually find Osmun.

When park rangers found him, Osmun recalled that one of them said, "You should be dead or unconscious right now," according to ABC News.

But even after rescuers arrived, it took an additional two hours to free Osmun.

"One guy scraping sand away, they were able to free my leg. It was probably one of the worst pains I've ever felt," he told "CBS This Morning."

After freeing Osmun, rescue crews wrapped him in a sleeping bag-like material, and then built shelters made of tarps and canopies. Rather than attempt to carry him out of the canyon, the group spent the night on the shore of the creek, hoping the winter storm that was hitting the area would let up enough to allow a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter to fly to the area to help.

It snowed 4 additional inches that night, according to public safety officials. And the state helicopter had to take several detours to manuever around the bad weather. But by Sunday afternoon, the helicopter made it to southern Utah.

A hoist was used to lift Osmun into the helicopter. He was then flown to an ambulance waiting nearby.

Osbum and his leg are expected to make a full recovery. He said it was the first time he had hiked the Subway — and probably his last.

"There was nothing I could change," he told ABC News. "We were as prepared as we could be."