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Searchers find two missing women alive near Zion

Published August 26, 2013 11:33 am

Kane County • Area where hikers found known for flash floods.
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Racing against the rain, Kane County Sheriff's Office on Monday found two hikers who had been missing since Sunday near Zion National Park, in an area known as The Barracks.

Kane County Emergency Services reported at 3:26 p.m. that the two Salt Lake City women were found alive and well.

Christian Delahunty, 40, and Suzy Wheeler-Mang, 51,began their hike Thursday from a point south of Mount Carmel Junction and west of U.S. 89 in the east fork of the Virgin River. They intended to hike down the fork to an area near a popular hiking spot called Fat Mans Misery, and hike out at Checkerboard Mesa in Zion National Park by Sunday morning, according to a news release.

Kane County dispatchers received notification that the pair was overdue by Sunday evening. Beginning at 7:30 a.m. Monday, a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter flew the hikers' entire route, but the searchers did not see them. The helicopter expanded its search and ground teams headed into the few available access points into the canyon.

By the afternoon, the helicopter crew found Delahunty and Wheeler-Mang about 2 miles from Checkerboard Mesa. The pair got lost and disoriented in the canyons on the way to the mesa, but happened upon a couple of other hikers who led them back to the trail, said Kane County Sheriff's Sgt. Alan Alldredge. Searchers found them soon after and flew them to the Kanab City Airport.

They had endured several rainstorms and were about out of food, and they made it out before more storms were forecasted to hit the area.

The Barracks refers to a dramatically narrow section of Parunaweap Canyon where the walls are tall and tight, creating a flash flood risk. The adjacent Zion National Park received about 1½ inches of rain Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

The Virgin River swelled by 6 feet Sunday afternoon and evening, turning a low stream into a real river near Springdale and raising the water level to about 13 feet once it reached sensors near Hurricane.

"The report from the helicopter is that there is a lot of water, the river is running high," Alldredge said earlier Monday, though he pointed out that the slot canyons are not very long and that most of the hikers' trek would have been in safer areas.

Rainfall was expected to continue over large portions of southern Utah on Monday, according to a flash flood watch from the National Weather Service. The watch remains in effect through Monday evening.


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