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Search crews locate missing men in Uintah County

Published: Tuesday, April 9 2013 9:50 a.m. MDT

Kyle Wilkerson, left, and Joey Draper pose with Draper's dog Hoyt on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, shortly after Uintah County sheriff's search and rescue found them in the Book Cliffs. The trio got lost in a blinding snowstorm Monday afternoon and spent the night huddled together under a rock outcropping.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

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THE BOOK CLIFFS, Uintah County — The backpacks Joey Draper and Kyle Wilkerson were carrying already bristled with the deer and elk antlers they had collected when they decided to walk down one more small draw Monday afternoon.

"It was nice," Wilkerson said, referring to the weather.

"I mean we had T-shirts on, pretty much," he said.

The men had dropped their heavy packs and their coats on a hillside, intending to return for them. But as they combed the bottom of the wash for more shed antlers, a sudden snowstorm struck.

"It just turned us completely around," Draper said. "We just couldn't navigate where we were at or anything."

Draper and Wilkerson described whiteout conditions that prevented them from finding their jackets or their packs, which held food, matches and other supplies. But they didn't panic.

"We stayed pretty positive and we kept calm," Draper said. "We didn't freak or stress out. We both agreed on the same decision, once we made one, and we just teamworked right through it."

They decided to find one of the roads that crisscross the Book Cliffs and follow it.

Meanwhile, friends and family began to worry when the men didn't return home from their day trip by nightfall.

"It's not like either one of these boys not to call or text," said Draper's father, Brad.

The Uintah County Sheriff's Department was contacted, and its search and rescue team was called out just before 5 a.m. Tuesday to look for the men.

Wilkerson said he and Draper "crawled up under a cliff and stayed close" to get through the night, sharing body heat with Draper's dog, Hoyt.

"Having the dog with us, it helped a lot," Wilkerson said.

The men woke up to snow on the ground Tuesday and more falling from the sky. But they kept walking the road until they were found just before 1 p.m. They had walked about 10 miles cross-country from where their truck was parked, according to Uintah County sheriff's detective Leonard Issacson. 

"It's something else when you're out there by yourself, you know, nothing around you and you don't know what to do," Wilkerson said. 

"Yeah," Draper agreed. "I'd just like to thank all the officers and friends and family, and the rescue squad that came out. It was a huge help. It means a lot."

E-mail: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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