SALT LAKE CITY — A Colorado pastor and his family whose kayaks crashed into boulders on a rough southern Utah river spent two days a steep canyon waiting for help and subsisting on food retrieved from their overturned boats, a Utah sheriff's deputy said Monday.
Garfield County Deputy Sheriff Ray Gardner said the mother, father, two teenage girls and a dog from Bailey, Colorado, lost most of their kayak paddles on Friday when they hit a rough patch of the Escalante River, overturning their inflatable boats and scattering their gear.
The family was lucky to escape injury and drowning, Gardner said. They managed to scoop up their gear and their stranded kayaks before climbing on the banks of the cold river, which cuts through steep canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Gardner said the family dog, which described as Labrador Retriever, was also uninjured and waiting with the family for help.
On Sunday, as the mother's heart medication was running low and the Escalante River's flow stayed high and unrelenting, a state police helicopter stumbled upon the family while searching for a missing kayaker.
The pastor had "just said a prayer that they'd get some help because they didn't see any other options developing," Gardner said, "And a minute or two later, we showed up."
Gardner, one of several law enforcement officials on the helicopter, said Monday that the family was safe and did not need medical attention.
Authorities did not have details Monday about the family's names, but Gardner said they appeared to be on a multiday river trip when they hit rough boulders where kayakers typically pull out of the river and walk their boats on shore before putting them back in the river again.
Gardner said the family had kayaked before but was making their first trip through the Escalante River and may not have known about the obstacle.
The Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter was able to land on a sandbar and flew the mother and two teenage daughters out of the canyon to an airport in the town of Escalante, authorities said. The helicopter then returned for the father, who was waiting with rescuers, and flew the pastor to the family car parked outside the canyon near a trailhead.
The father later met his family at the airport.
The Escalante River, running through unforgiving terrain on the 3,000-square mile Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, is normally running high this time of year as melting snow creates runoff, Gardner said. But a Friday storm walloped the area and likely had river levels running even higher over the weekend, the deputy said.
A message left with a spokesman for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was not returned.