An alert cattleman and an “SOS” message crafted of rocks and flowers likely saved the lives of an elderly Texas couple stranded for six days in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Kane County Chief Deputy Sheriff Alan Alldredge said Friday that Gerald Byler, 76, and his 78-year-old wife, Helena, ran into trouble on a remote, rocky stretch of Croton Road when their rental car broke down on what was planned to be a day trip to Lake Powell.
It wasn’t until Oct. 2 that a Panguitch rancher, Dell LeFevre, found Helena Byler lying on the road, severely dehydrated and confused. He called 911 and met a sheriff’s deputy near the town of Big Water, who then took her to the Kane County Hospital in Kanab.
Helena Byler was able to tell the deputy that she and her husband had left Kanab using a GPS device to guide them toward Lake Powell. However, at the time she was unable to recall exact details about how she ended up separated from her husband, who was believed to still be with the car.
“[But] Helena remembered something about being on Grand Bench Road, which would have been to the east of where she was found,” Alldredge said.
Another deputy was dispatched to that area, along with a Classic Air Medical helicopter out of Page, Ariz. It was the helicopter crew who spotted the SOS signal that Gerald Byler had set up at the junction of Croton and Grand Bench roads.
The helicopter landed, but the crew did not find Byler in the car. They eventually located him inside an old trailer about a half-mile away. He was severely dehydrated and unable to move.
Byler was flown to the Dixie Regional Medical Center in critical condition. He remained in the hospital Friday, his condition upgraded to fair; his wife had been discharged earlier in the week.
Byler was not available for interviews Friday, a nurse said.
As they recovered, memories of the ordeal became clearer for the couple, Alldredge said.
Approximate location of where the couple was found:
After the car broke down, the couple had begun to walk, spending their first night out in the rain. The next morning, exhausted, Gerald Byler could go no farther, so Helena Byler continued on, hoping to find help.
Five days later she was found, leading to the rescues — probably just in the nick of time.
“A lot of things fell into place,” Alldredge said. “One more day would probably have resulted in a very different outcome.”