CEDAR CITY As the search continued in southern Utah and Nevada for a Kearns couple last seen nearly a week ago, family members remained optimistic about the chances of finding them safe.
"I think the best way to describe it right now ... we're fearing the worst but praying for the best. We're being realistic with the temperatures and how long they've been out there," said Jack Retallick, brother of Tamitha Garner.
Garner and her husband, Tom, were last seen Saturday headed from Ely, Nev., to St. George.
Thursday, searchers, including the Civil Air Patrol, were back in southern Utah over Iron County and Lincoln County, Nev., in planes and on the road looking for the couple.
Iron County sheriff's deputies said they were frustrated they hadn't found any sign of the Garners.
"We've got no real direction and hundreds and hundreds of miles to look over," Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower said Thursday.
Tom and Tamitha left their Kearns home last week to go on a trip for Tamitha's birthday. They visited Bryce Canyon and then went to Ely to photograph wild mustangs, Retallick said. "(Tom's) hobby and passion is photographing nature and landscapes," he said.
On the morning of Jan. 26, the couple began a trek from Ely back to St. George where they planned to spend the evening. As she always does, Tamitha called her daughter Krystal to let her know she was leaving.
"My sister is adamant about calling and checking in. 'This is where we're at, this is where we're going.' She calls two to three times a day," Retallick said. "She could be in the same house and (Tamitha) could be text messaging (her daughter). They have that type of relationship."
Video surveillance and bank records confirm the Garners were in Panaca, Nev., buying gas. That was the last trace of the couple. Since then, there has been no cell phone activity or bank account activity on either person's account.
Later that afternoon, Krystal tried calling her parents but kept getting the voice message on their cell phones.
"It appears they've gone dead or been turned off," Gower said.
Late Thursday, Iron County Sheriff's Search and Rescue teams began searching snowpacked and impassible roads by snowmobile. The search is being focused in areas along state Route 56. The couple was last seen traveling east toward Utah.
"We're searching all the back roads in western Iron County," Gower said. "We have 3,300 square miles in our county."
In Lincoln County, Nev., searchers used three fixed-wing planes and a helicopter to look for the couple.
"We've been flying up every canyon and driving every road," said Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee. "We're running into bitter-cold temperatures and 18 inches of snow in some spots. And we're coming up empty-handed."
Retallick said Tom was the type of person who rarely deviated from his original course. "They wouldn't completely alter their route without letting someone know," he said.
Meanwhile, authorities were pursuing an unconfirmed sighting of the couple's gray 1999 Dodge Dakota truck with Utah license plate 793 URF near Dameron Valley in Washington County. Gower said someone phoned in a tip that he saw the truck, which also has a scorpion sticker in the back window.
Retallick said the couple's four-wheel-drive truck, which has a two-door extended cab, has a lot of stickers on the back, but the scorpion sticker is what stands out the most.
The Garners were also traveling with their dog, an older cinnamon-chocolate colored mutt named Medusa. They had a lot of blankets and coats but were not prepared to be out in the wilderness that long. Retallick said the couple was very familiar with the area and often camped there in the summer. But on this trip they were planning on staying at hotels. "They're not prepared to spend this many nights out there," he said. Still, Retallick said the couple's large extended family, which all live in Utah, know both Tom and Tamitha have as good as chance as anyone of surviving. "She's a real tough cookie," he said of his sisters.
Some family members in Salt Lake were trying to organize their own search party to go down to southern Utah, although other family members were trying to discourage the group for safety reasons and to let the authorities continue looking. The search has been frustrating for law enforcement. Weather forced planes to land earlier than expected on Wednesday. Authorities fear the Garners are not prepared for the elements. As much as 2 feet of snow has been reported in areas.
"We're finding tracks in the snow. They're finding people out there, they're cutting wood, people out at their cabins," Gower said. "They've literally followed tracks from the air and nothing."
The Nevada wing of the Civil Air Patrol has had seven planes in the air searching since Tuesday, said Maj. Timothy Hahn. Utah CAP is part of the search with four aircraft and one aircraft is participating from Colorado's CAP, he said.
"We have run into weather problems, usually in the afternoon," he said. "Clouds drop, snow showers move in and it's very unsafe for fixed-wing aircraft to fly though."
Overall, Hahn said, the search conditions have proven challenging.
"It's very mountainous terrain, snow covered, with downdrafts, updrafts no search out there is ever easy," he said.Nevada also enlisted the help of a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter that went up Thursday morning. Lee said he expects to scale back CAP efforts in Nevada today and will reevaluate the search effort on his side of the border in the evening. Tom Garner works for Franklin Covey while his wife works as a CNA as Sandy Regional Rehabilitation Center.
Contributing: Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Aaron Falk