1 of 8
Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Dr. Darrell Wilson listens to Tamitha and Tom Garner talk Wednesday at Valley View Medical Center about their rescue.

CEDAR CITY — The Kearns couple who survived 10 days in a snow-covered remote area of southern Utah have been released from the hospital after an overnight stay.

At one point, Tom and Tamitha Garner admited that they didn't think they would make it.

At press conference Wednesday, they said they wrote wills and used a video camera to tape messages to their family, hoping that when their bodies were eventually found, their final words to their loved ones would be recovered.

But while prepared for the worst, the Garners weren't about to give up.

"My family is what kept me going," Tamitha Garner said Wednesday night. "Every thought was with my family. I had to get back home."

She said she kept thinking to herself, "Hold on one more day."

Seemingly against all odds, the Garners, from Kearns, were found Wednesday afternoon in remote Modena Canyon, about 60 miles west of Cedar City, by an Iron County road crew clearing a remote road into Beaver County. They had spent 10 days alone in extreme weather conditions with little food or water after their truck became stuck.

"I'm running, I'm screaming, I'm jumping up and down," was Tamitha Garner's reaction when she saw the big yellow road truck. "It was wonderful."

Perhaps most surprising of all, the Garners and their dog were not only found alive, but in good condition.

"I thought. 'No way,"' Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower said of his initial reaction when he heard the news. "I asked (dispatchers) 'What condition are they in?' I kept saying, 'No way, no way."'

Dr. Darrell Wilson at Cedar City's Valley View Medical Center said Wednesday that the Garners were in "surprisingly good condition considering the trial they went through and the difficult experience they had out in the wilderness."

"I said, 'Wow, are these really the ones that were out there that long?"' he said.

Both were dehydrated and suffered some blisters, minor frostbite on their fingers and toes, as well as some muscle breakdown, Wilson said. But neither was expected to suffer long-term health damage. He noted that if all went well, both might be able to go home today or Friday.

The Garners said they saw the posted warning signs into the canyon. They were considering what to do when they saw an elderly woman in a car come driving down the road.

"I thought, 'How bad could it be?"' Tom Garner said.

But the couple went farther than the woman had and found themselves and their dog, Medusa, stuck in the snow.

Tamitha Garner said the couple at first stayed in their truck. They passed the time by talking and playing games on Tom's iPod. They were careful to ration their food supply and water and only turned on their truck occasionally to stay warm.

"It was brutal," she said of the weather conditions. "By 6:30 each night the windows were frozen shut." But by Monday they were down to just one granola bar and were sharing Medusa's food.

"It was time to do something," she said.

At that point they set out on foot. By the time the Garners left their truck, it was so covered with snow that the hood could barely be seen, Tamitha said.

Tom remembered watching a "Survivorman" TV show and made snowshoes out of seat cushions. He said it worked extremely well. Still, the snow sank 9 to 10 inches when he walked. Tamitha, in her tennis shoes, followed in his tracks. At times, the snow was up to her waist and she had to crawl.

The couple stayed warmed by fires that they started by igniting deodorant and aerosol carburetor fluid.

A couple of times they could hear the search plane nearby. But at other times, she said the clouds were so low that even though they could hear them looking, they knew no one could see them. The Garners guess they walked between 10 to 15 miles over the past three days before they came across the road crew.

Chuck Hulet, who was working a road grader when he saw the couple standing by the road, said, "She was glad to see us, her and her husband. They just grabbed me and gave me a big hug."

In an interview with the Deseret Morning News, Hulet said the couple told him they were out at a spring looking at horses when a storm moved overhead.

"They got stuck from the storm and spent eight nights in the pickup," he said. "The plane flew over looking for them but didn't see them."

Ironically, the crew was clearing the snowpacked road to reach a family stuck in a cabin in the area when they encountered the Garners. The crew called for help and drove them to Modena, where an ambulance was summoned.

"They were walking," said Iron County Search and Rescue commander Charlie Morris. "The vehicle, I understand, is a little further into Beaver County. They'd been walking for a while."

Hulet said the couple had been walking through four-foot snowdrifts with Medusa.

"It was wonderful to find them," he told the Deseret Morning News. "She was hugging and crying."

The couple and their dog arrived at the Cedar City hospital about 5:15 p.m. in a single ambulance.

Medical crews first brought Tamitha Garner out on a stretcher covered with a blanket. Medusa was quite frisky and bounded out of the ambulance. Officials put a leash on the dog and handed her over to an animal control officer.

Tom Garner left the ambulance on his own power, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses, with a blanket thrown over his shoulders. He stepped gingerly out of the ambulance and was helped into a wheelchair.

Asked how he was doing, he said in a strong voice, "Good!" Then he looked into the cameras of the news crews and said, "Hi, Ma." He was then taken into the hospital to be evaluated.

"Quite frankly, you can't describe it," said Tom's father, Gerald Garner. "There are no words to describe it. The emotions are just running wild. There have been millions of people here, and I've been hugging everybody."

At a press conference Wednesday night, Tom and Tamitha addressed the press while sitting in wheelchairs and holding hands.

"At first it was all tears, hugs and kisses (when I was reunited with my father). Then I saw him rear his fist back," Tom Garner said with a smile.

Law enforcement officials in Utah and Nevada had planned a few more searches in the high-country desert near the border, but acknowledged that efforts were winding down. An airplane and a snowmobile crew had been searching remote Iron County again on Wednesday.

Tamitha said the first thing she planned to do when she got home was eat her daughter's homemade macaroni and cheese. Her daughter Krystal, was en route to the hospital Wednesday to be reunited with her parents. Tamitha noted her daughter even received a speeding ticket on the way down, which Tamitha said she would gladly pay.

"This has definitely made me a believer in prayer, no matter who you pray to," Tom Garner said.

Many were stunned that they were found alive and well.

"After 10 days, they're alive!" said Lincoln County, Nev., Sheriff Kerry Lee, whose office headed up the search effort.

"It was right where searchers have been flying, right where the snowmobiles have been. We just didn't see them," Lee said.

Searchers had covered thousands of miles of rugged terrain seeking the Garners, who had been seen last on Jan. 26 buying gas at a Panaca, Nev., station. They told family members they were going out into the rural area to photograph wild horses.

"I never gave up," Gerald Garner said. "I know my boy is resourceful, intelligent. He's an Eagle Scout. I knew he could make the right decisions to benefit their wellbeing and, obviously, he did."

Air and ground searches had turned up nothing until late Wednesday afternoon. Family and friends also had done some searching on their own, but authorities discouraged them because of the danger.

"This morning we were just not feeling as optimistic as we had been," said Tom's sister-in-law, Ange Garner. "It's fabulous news."

35 comments on this story

On Saturday, volunteer Iron County Search and Rescue team member Leroy Davenport was searching about 80 miles from Cedar City when he got stuck in the snow. After exerting himself to get free, Davenport, 37, went home complaining that he wasn't feeling well, Gower said. He died early Sunday morning.

The first comments Tamitha had for the media Wednesday night were to express gratitude for all the searchers and her condolences to Davenport's family.

"To us, his sacrifice is no different than a police officer, firefighter or soldier laying down their life for their country," Krystal Garner, the couple's daughter, said in a statement.

Their dog, Medusa, is at the Cedar City Animal Shelter.

Contributing: Aaron Falk

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com; nperkins@desnews.com; bwinslow@desnews.com