A television helicopter with a Weber County searcher on board spotted five people Tuesday morning, presumably the snowmobilers missing since Sunday, according to a Weber Communication dispatcher.
"We were notified at 10:29 a.m. that they had spotted them by a fire. So they are alive," the dispatcher said. "That's all we know right now."The copter, owned by Classic Helicopters and leased by KTVX-Channel 4, joined search efforts Tuesday, led by more than 50 searchers from Weber County and the Golden Spike Snowmobile Club.
"That's wonderful. We are glad that they are safe and sound," an elated Pauline McNeely said upon hearing the news Tuesday morning. The South Ogden grandmother had been confident that the five snowmobilers - including her son, daughter-in-law, and 10-year-old grandson - would be found alive.
She said her son, Ray McNeely, was well-equipped with warm clothing, plenty of food and camping savvy when he took the group to Monte Cristo in Ogden Canyon Sunday for a day of snowmobiling.
It's that training that possibly saved the five Utahns, family and law enforcement officers said Tuesday.
"I think we have a better than 50/50 chance of finding them alive," Weber County Sheriff Craig Dearden said early Tuesday morning, before the reported sighting. He spoke to the news media from a command post in the Monte Cristo parking lot. "The five will be found alive because the McNeelys are experienced and avid snowmobilers."
The five are identified as Ray G. McNeely, 42, Rebecca McNeely, 37, Michael McNeely, 10, and Don and Kristy Donehoo, ages 44 and 43. The McNeely family is from Roy; the Donehoos, from Washington Terrace.
The group was reported missing Sunday night after failing to return from a snowmobile trip at Monte Cristo, up Ogden Canyon - 16 miles east of Huntsville.
Dearden speculated that the group got lost after a blizzard set in Sunday afternoon. He said the search group failed to find tracks because the snow had blown over the area.
One of the machines was found Monday morning on the peak of Monte Cristo. And Dearden said an unidentified person notified the sheriff's department Tuesday morning that he spotted four adults and one child on snowmobiles in Arbs Basin on Sunday afternoon.
Pauline McNeely said the group was well-equipped when it left home Sunday morning. Each member was wearing good snowmobile clothing. Each carried space blankets - thermal blankets that fit in an envelope.
"They had taken a good supply of food for that day, but should be running out," Pauline McNeely said early Tuesday morning.
Her son, who with his father, Ray, runs McNeely Sales in Ogden, is an experienced camper and snowmobiler. The family enjoyed the sport together. In fact, Pauline McNeely and her husband snowmobiled with their son and his family for a week in Yellowstone after Christmas.
Ray and Becky, she said, would head for the mountains with their machines every weekend - when time permitted. Normally their three children would accompany them. But this week Raymond, 13, and Lori Ann, 8, stayed home. "Raymond had surgery on his toe and didn't feel like going, and their little girl just plain doesn't like to go snowmobiling and asked to stay with Grandma."
They returned to school Tuesday while efforts continued to find their parents and brother.
Heavy snow and freezing temperatures Tuesday were expected to hamper search efforts by Weber, Cache and Rich County Sheriff rescue units.