Stranded mechanic from Cache County says God, thoughts of his wife saved his life
Michael Anderson, Deseret News
WELLSVILLE, Cache County — A man is thankful to be alive after he was rescued from an intense snowstorm last week in Wyoming.
Larry Leckenby lives in Wellsville with his wife, Sunny. Monday, he was aching all over, but grateful to be resting at home, dry and warm.
Leckenby, a diesel mechanic, was in northeastern Wyoming in the Bighorn National Forest on Feb. 12, headed into the national forest to fix a disabled snowcat. His company sells and services snowcats owned by national parks and resorts for grooming trails. Leckenby was there to work on one that had broken down 22 miles out on a snow-groomed road.
"It was storming before I left," he said.
Repairs had already been delayed several days, so early Wednesday, he was sent out solo in a snowstorm to fix it. He was riding a snowmobile, pulling a sled with tools and equipment for the job.
"Sometimes you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you," he recalled.
He was making good progress, but there was plenty of snow on the groomed trail and little visibility.
"Every 10 feet there was a snowdrift that was 2 or 3 feet deep," he said.
As he rode above 9,000 feet, 17 miles from Bear Lodge where he was staying, he rounded a lookout on the road known as Observation Point. That's when he ran into a deep drift.
"I got on top of the snowdrift, and the left side collapsed and rolled me and the snowmobile over," he said. "I held on to the handlebars."
Leckenby said he tumbled about 100 yards into chest deep snow. In pain, he made a quick assessment of his body and realized he had hurt his calf and wrenched his back and shoulder in the fall.
He tried to get a handle on the snowmobile, but realized he would have to leave it and crawl back to the road, a very steep ascent.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," he said.
After an hour he was back on the road, winded and exhausted, but he was still 17 miles from the lodge in a blizzard and minus-10 degree wind chill.
He thought about building a snow cave but realized no one was going to find him. He knew that no one knew exactly where he was that morning.
"I just kept going. I did not want to stop," Leckenby said. "If I stopped, I knew that would be it."
The snowmobile was in the ravine, but his equipment sled was still on the road. He grabbed a bottle of water from the sled and started walking.
He walked for 6 ½ hours in a driving snowstorm. He said he pictured his wife's face to keep him going. His snowmobile clothes and helmet kept him warm and reasonably dry.
Leckenby estimates he made it about 15 miles, about 2 miles shy of the lodge, when he was ready to collapse and give up. He said he wasn't thinking clearly any longer when four members of a youth ministry out for a day ride spotted him. He'd seen no one on the snowy road all day before they arrived.
"They pulled up. I kind of looked around," Leckenby said. "He asked me if I needed a ride and, at that time, I collapsed."
They gave him a ride back to the lodge, where his rescuers warmed him up by the fire and he broke down.
"I couldn't stop myself from crying because I realized I almost died," he said.
In a follow-up email, the leader of the youth ministry told him he surely would not have made it out alive had they not come along when they did. But Leckenby lived to see his inspiration, his wife's face again.
"Just knowing that he's OK means everything," said Sunny Leckenby, smiling in her living room as tears rolled down her cheek. "That he's home with me, it just means everything to me."
She didn't know exactly what was going on while her husband was trudging through the snow in the Bighorn Mountains, but she was a bit worried that she hadn't heard from him in two days before he got home. But she said it doesn't surprise her that he made it out alive.
"Determination is not lacking with him," she said. "When he puts his mind to something, he can accomplish it."
Leckenby said he's never going to have to ride a snowmobile again for work. He's glad he can walk away with a pulled calf and a bad back and shoulder after that ordeal.
"It was treacherous," he said. "I mean, it was scary, but the good Lord was watching out for me."
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