ESCALANTE RIVER, Garfield County — Luke Bowman with the Utah Department of Public Safety was called to help local officials look for an overdue kayaker over the weekend.
Instead, he found a Colorado family of four who had been stranded for two days and rescued them.
"The mom said something like, 'I don't care where we go, just get me out of this canyon.' They were pretty relieved for sure," Bowman said.
On Sunday, Bowman, who pilots one of the department's helicopters, was called to help fly along the Escalante River in Garfield County to look for a kayaker who became separated from his group.
"We were flying down the river looking, and we saw a guy step out onto a sandbar and signal for help," Bowman recalled.
He landed the helicopter and a deputy who was with him got out to see what the problem was. They found out that the man, his wife and their two girls, ages 13 and 17, were on a weeklong kayaking trip but crashed two days earlier and were stranded.
"They came around a corner and got into a bad spot," Bowman said. "They came around the corner and the water was really high and they couldn't prevent themselves from hitting into the rocks."
The group lost their kayaks and paddles but were able to grab their tents, sleeping bags and food before it, too, floated down the rapids, he said.
The family was sunburned but otherwise uninjured when they were found.
There is only a short window each year when the Escalante River has enough water for kayaking. It runs through a rugged area with sandstone gorges, eventually dumping into Lake Powell. Bowman said the river was running particularly high last week because of recent storms.
The area where the family became stuck was "pretty steep on both sides," Bowman said. The group had attempted to hike out the day before they were found, but they turned around when it became too dangerous.
Bowman said this is the start of the busy season for search and rescue crews, particularly for county sheriff offices like those in Garfield and Kane counties.
"For every call that we go on, the counties get exponentially more," he said. "If we get called once, they've probably already been on five or more."
The kayaker that the Department of Public Safety was originally called to help find eventually made his way back to camp. Bowman said he had missed the point where he was supposed to get out of the river and ended up going much further into the county, where he eventually found a ride back to his campsite.
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