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Harrowing youth group rescue shows dangers of Utah's canyons

Posted at 10:53 AM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 23:40:04-04

GARFIELD COUNTY, Utah — The Garfield County Sheriff's Office said 17 kids and two adults in a youth group were successfully rescued from a treacherous slot canyon Friday after being stuck there overnight.

Sheriff Danny Perkins tweeted about the rescue, which took place in Sandthrax Canyon east of Capitol Reef National Park. He did not offer any information on what group the people were with.

Raw video below shows dramatic rescue of youth group from Garfield County canyon

Video shows thrilling rescue of youth group from Garfield Co. canyon

A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter was dispatched to the area to assist in the rescue Friday morning after Perkins received the group's location.

"They were awful tired, maybe slightly dehydrated, but awful glad to get out," Perkins told FOX 13 News.

Just after noon, Perkins took to social media to share the news that the entire group had been rescued.

"Everyone has been rescued and taken to safety everyone is OK," Perkins wrote. "I can’t thank our DPS helicopter crew enough along with Wayne County deputies Garfield County Deputy‘s and Search And Rescue."

Perkins said it took several hours to get everyone out.

“When I get these phone calls and they say, 'Youth group, 15 kids,' you kind of get a heaviness in your chest, and you just say a little prayer and throw everything you've got at it," he said.

This isn’t the first time climbers have gotten stuck in one of Utah’s slot canyons, said Tom Jones, an experienced canyoneer.

“My reaction was, 'Oh, no, not again,'" he said.

Sandthrax is not a trek Jones wants to take again, he said.

“I've done it once," said Jones. "And it's quite hard.”

The intense canyon in North Wash has a reputation of being “impossible.”

“That's just not a canyon you would take any anyone in who wasn't very experienced," said Jones.

Perkins still hopes Utah’s desert adventures continue to lure people from near and far this summer. He advises that whether you're in a big group or all by yourself, always let someone know ahead of time where you are.

“Have fun," he said. "Be safe, be safe, be safe. “

In discussing the dangers of Sandthrax Canyon, Perkins said four women had to be rescued from the same location last weekend.

"Amazingly enough, last Saturday morning we had the helicopter come down and hoist four females out of Lephrehcaun right next to that canyon," said Perkins. "This is the real deal down here. Again, don’t think you’re larger than life, because that’ll get you in trouble.", a canyoneering website, described the canyon and its hazards in no uncertain terms.

"SANDTHRAX CANYON IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR MOST CANYONEERS! It requires climbing competency and ability that most canyoneers do not poses (sic). There have been several accidents in the canyon already, fortunately, none fatal yet. IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS ABOUT YOUR ABILITY TO DESCEND THE CANYON, YOU ARE NOT READY TO DO IT!"

Perkins echoed that sentiment, saying that tourists are welcome, but that they should plan accordingly.

"Make sure you have the right equipment, not only to get you through what you’re doing, but the safety equipment, make sure people know where you are," Perkins said.

Above all else, the sheriff said those who need help should call for assistance before things become dire.

"The reality is we can be hours getting to you, that’s just the logistics of things. We want you to come to Garfield canyon. We want you to have fun and be safe," he said.

Officials originally reported 15 people and 2 leaders were in the group.