|for 32 years. He works as a security guard at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. Randy and his wife, Vicki, have lived in Overton since 2001.
Neither Randy nor Vicki were a novice in winter weather conditions. The couple has enjoyed snowmobiling together for the past five years. Cedar Mountain has been a favorite spot. Randy said that he has travelled most of the trails in that area again and again. “I know the area backwards and forwards,” he said.
During the winter, the Wendts often take weekend trips to snowmobile on the mountain. Both of them grew up in snowy climates and the hobby suits them well. Vicki is from Ohio and Randy is a Wisconsin native.
“I grew up in the snow,” Randy said. “I am familiar with its dangers. But this time something just went horribly, horribly wrong!”
On the weekend of February 7-8 the Wendts decided to go snowmobiling. They checked into a Cedar City motel and spent the day Saturday on the mountain leaving their two small dogs in the motel room. They checked out of the motel on Sunday morning and headed back up to the mountain to get a couple of more hours of adventure in before heading back home. The trip was to be so short that they took the dogs with them and left them in their pickup truck parked at the junction of State Route 14 and Highway 123.
The couple set out on snowmobiles at about 9:45 a.m. Randy said that it was snowing at that time, but that it wasn’t blowing too badly. “We weren’t planning on going far and we figured that if it got worse we’d just come right back,” Randy said.
The Wendts met up with another snowmobiler at about 10:30. They didn’t know it at the time, but he was an off-duty park ranger. He advised them that the storm was expected to worsen throughout the morning. So the couple decided that they would head back to their truck which was only about two miles away at that point.
They turned around and started back but, on the way, the storm quickly got worse. “We reached the top of a hill and the winds were just howling,” Randy said. “Visibility was pretty bad.”
On the way down the hill, the couple encountered near white-out conditions. Randy, who was in the lead, ended up drifting slightly off of the main trail and ended up down in a ravine. Randy had gone off course into a stand of tall trees where the snow was deep, soft powder.
“When we got into those trees and hit that powder, I knew we were in big trouble,” Randy said.
Vicki ran into trouble first. Her machine hit the fresh powder among the trees and quickly got stuck in the snow.
Randy didn’t notice at first that Vicki was no longer behind him. He travelled another 150 yards before his machine also got stuck. Randy remembers looking at his watch at that point and noticing that it was 11:45 a.m.
The two spent the next couple of hours screaming back and forth to each other. “I could hear her screaming but couldn’t really understand what she was saying,” Randy said. He said that the yelling back and forth finally ended at about 3:30 p.m.
That evening the storm hit full bore, Randy said. The snow was already deep and getting deeper by the minute. Randy made some attempts to walk back along the trail that his vehicle had made, but he immediately sank waist deep in snow and was unable to move forward. Eventually he decided that he had to just stay with his snowmobile. The storm continued through that night and then all through Monday. By the end it had dropped about four more feet of snow.
Randy tried to keep warm by starting up his snowmobile and keeping his body close to the engine. Vicki said that she didn’t think of doing this. She said she is not sure how she survived. “I just tried not to panic,” she said. “I slept a lot and kept praying.”
Because the trip was so short, the couple had not thought they would need food, water or fuel for a fire. They ate snow in attempts to stay hydrated. Somehow they made it through the storm.
On Tuesday morning the clouds broke and the sun came out; but the temperatures dropped. It was bitterly cold, Randy said.
By this time, Randy’s snowmobile had run out of fuel. He began to carve out a small track about 20 feet long where he spent the time walking back and forth to keep up his circulation.
Randy hadn’t heard anything from Vicki since Sunday afternoon. “I thought for sure that she was dead,” he said. “I didn’t think that she had survived the storm.”
But Vicki was still alive. Actually the sunny day had given her a second wind. “Finally I just decided that I am not going to just sit here and die,” she said. “I’m going to get out of here one way or another.”
Vicki began a long and painful journey trudging through the waist deep snow along the path that Randy had taken ahead of her. It would be a terrible struggle, she said.
A state trooper came upon the Wendt’s truck on Tuesday afternoon. He saw that it had apparently not been moved since the road had been plowed early Monday morning. When he saw the small dogs shivering in the cab he knew the owners must be in trouble. A search and rescue effort began on Tuesday afternoon and continued into the night.
Tuesday night was clear but the temperatures continued to drop. By this time the more dangerous effects of hypothermia had set in. Randy reported being tormented throughout the night with strange hallucinations. He saw white lights in the sky and sinister figures around him in the darkness.
Wednesday morning dawned bright but cold. After not hearing from Vicki for two days, Randy suddenly heard her calling to him. But this time she was much closer. She had been crawling through the snow since the day before and was now only about 60 feet away from him.
“It felt like I had gone 15 or 20 miles,” Vicki said. “But they said it was only about 100 yards or so.”
Randy was happy to see her again. “He said that at least now we wouldn’t have to die out here all alone,” Vicki said. “At least we’d die together. I told him that I wasn’t going to die. I’m getting out of here.”
Randy told her that she had better pray hard, then. “I knew that we wouldn’t make it through another night,” Randy said.
Rescue teams also knew that the time was short. Another storm was forecast for Thursday. “They said that if they hadn’t found us on Wednesday, they would have had to cut off the search during the storm and probably wouldn’t have found us alive,” Randy said.
A full search effort was called into effect. Approximately 14 agencies assisted in the rescue effort. Sheriff’s officers of five different counties in the region as well as Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Highway Patrol were all called into action. The effort included more than a dozen snowmobiles and two helicopters scouring the countryside.
During the morning Wednesday, the Wendts thought that they heard helicopters overhead. At one point, Vicki saw a helicopter go by over her, but she was not spotted.
Vicki had eventually worked herself to a spot up on an embankment that was partially out in the open from the trees. From there she began saying a prayer. “I prayed loud and hard, more than I have ever prayed before,” she said.
Vicki said that just as she was ending her prayer, she heard a helicopter overhead. It was pilot Bryce Payne who was not on duty but was volunteering his time and his aircraft in the search. Eventually the rescue crews reached the couple.
Randy and Vicki were brought to the Valley View Medical Center in Cedar City. Randy was treated for dehydration and then released. But Vicki’s condition was more serious. She had suffered serious frostbite to her extremities. Her feet had completely frozen to her boots. She was sent by Lifeflight to the UMC Hospital burn unit in Las Vegas where her injuries were treated as burns. Vicki is still under treatment at UMC. Doctors are uncertain whether her feet will heal or whether they will have to be amputated.
“I’m just surprised that we came out of it at all,” reflected Randy. “It is a devastating experience that I never thought would happen.”
Randy said that it was too early to say whether he will ever go out snowmobiling again. “I can tell you one thing, though,” he said. “If I ever do go out again, I will get a GPS sending unit to take along with me. I don’t care how short the trip is going to be.”