LEHI — Three friends from Lehi left home for a refreshing snowmobile trip through the Uintah Mountains Thursday morning, planning on spending a few hours enjoying the crisp air of the Rockies.
Nearly 19 hours and one dramatic rescue later, they returned home happy to be alive.
The volunteer-run Wasatch County sheriff's search and rescue team responded to an alert that Aage Giessing, 67, and 35-year-olds Randall Hild and Kory Boyd were missing about 6 p.m. Thursday, finding them more than three hours later in one of the worst blizzards ever to hit the state.
Eight rescuers found the men, who had veered 37 miles off course because of severely limited visibility.
Boyd said the group hadn't thought the impending storm was a problem and had no inkling of its severity until it hit them almost 40 miles northeast of Heber City.
"From the time we could see the storm to the time that it hit us was probably about 15 minutes," he said. "It was like a whitewall. The whole front just moved in on us."
As a last minute thought, Hild had brought with him a SPOT Satellite Messenger, a device capable of sending a distress message and GPS coordinates from remote locations with little wireless service.
"I wasn't planning to bring it, I actually kind of forgot I had it," Hild said Friday. "(The morning before), I logged in to set up the account on it and threw it in my bag."
His family noticed the email alert and informed the rescue crew.
Hild said the rescuers could not have been more skilled at penetrating the storm on the mountainous terrain.
"I don't know how to put it besides calling them artists on a snowmobile," he said. "Frankly, some dumb guys got lost — and for them to come and do what they did, and do it how they did it, is incredible. When you're that guy they're coming in for, it takes on a whole new meaning."
After sending their distress signal, the group stayed in a shelter of trees. They started a fire and took turns resting while the two others gathered dry wood. The men were preparing to stay through the weekend if necessary.
"I was 100 percent convinced we were not getting off that night," Boyd recalled.
The three men had been snowmobiling several times before and felt comfortable that they knew their way around. But that was before the whiteout.
"I kind of blame it on myself because I know the area really well. I've been far back in there quite a few times, but I just lost track of where we were at," Giessing said.
The three men called it a miracle that they made it out safely, saying they couldn't credit the the search and rescue team enough.
"What got me emotional was when we see the other six come in. ... Not just two guys came after us. Everybody came in and jumped around the fire, introducing themselves."
The volunteers had held a meeting earlier that evening before being notified of the emergency.
"I'm just thankful. They saved our lives," Boyd said, getting emotional. "Who goes out at nighttime, in a blizzard, in crazy terrain and puts their lives on their line, you know? It was awesome."
After a trip back to the cabin where they had kept some of their gear, then a snowy drive down Provo Canyon, the grateful three friends were back home with their families by 4 a.m. Friday.
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