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Survivors recount '63 Scout tragedy

Published: Sunday, June 8 2008 12:06 a.m. MDT

PROVO — An accident that claimed the lives of 13 people on a Boy Scout expedition altered lives, including that of Tom Heal, then 15.

"It was a defining moment that changed my life," Heal said. "I realized that life was to be lived to the fullest. It's why I've done many of the things I've done."

Forty-five years ago on Tuesday, a cattle truck loaded with Boy Scouts and their leaders rolled backward off an embankment and tumbled down a steep ravine, killing 12.

The 13th victim, a Scout leader, died in a Panguitch hospital days later. The accident occurred on a dusty desert road about 45 miles from Escalante in southern Utah.

The dead included a Deseret News reporter, Dorothy Jane Hansen; Scoutmaster Harvey Darrell Taylor and his assistant Scoutmaster, William Allen Creer; Merlin J. Shaw, who headed the expedition; and a Salt Lake City teacher, Robert Cook.

Scout victims were Joseph William Erickson, Gordon Henry Grow, Randall Melvin Hall, Randy Wayne Miller, Gary Lynn Rasmussen, Lynn Merrill and Gary Christensen. More than 2 dozen were injured in the June 10,1963, tragedy.

Leaders had packed more than 40 people into the 2.5-ton cattle truck on their way to Hole-in-the-Rock, where they were to meet with about 50 boaters for a Colorado River adventure. The original plan was to transport the Scouts to the site by bus and the gear by truck, but a service station attendant along the way said a bus would never make it over the rough terrain. So the passengers were packed into the truck with a week's worth of gear.

The truck started up the steep hill in a higher gear, then the driver tried to shift down as he approached the crest, Heal said. When he couldn't get it into gear he tried to brake, but the truck failed to respond and rolled 124 feet backward down the hill before plunging off a 35-foot embankment.

"I still remember those gears grinding," Heal said.

He was banged up and suffered some broken ribs but was not seriously injured. Heal and another Scout, Brian Roundy, began running-walking to Escalante for help, then a man picked them up. Three hours later, rescuers made it to the site. David Hall, now 61, said some died during the interim from internal bleeding. He was knocked out.

The tragedy also changed Hall's life, primarily from the loss of his friends and his cousin, Randall Hall. Brothers Randall and Allen Hall of Ogden were invited to go on the trip and were not members of the Provo troop. Neither was Gordon Grow, whom Heal invited on the trip.

"It killed our youth program for years," David Hall said.

At the 30th anniversary of the accident, Heal and Lee Colbin erected a monument for those who died there, giving closure to Heal and other survivors.

Tracy Hall of Provo dedicated the monument at 3:15 p.m., the exact time of the tragedy. Earlier, a luncheon was held at the LDS Stake center in Escalante and then as many as 60 cars holding some 300 people from around the country and Canada caravaned to the site.

It was a cloudless, blue sky with no moisture in the air. Yet as they drove to the site, he and others saw a slightly curved rainbow in the sky, a rainbow that stayed until the monument was dedicated, Heal said. They took it as a sign that the victims of the tragedy "knew we were there to honor them and accepted the dedication," he said.

"This is holy ground."


E-mail: rodger@desnews.com

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