Tour guide finds peace 16 years after deadly flood

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PAGE, Ariz — Pancho Quintana, the sole survivor of a deadly tragedy near Lake Powell, has finally found peace. Sixteen years ago a flash flood wiped out a tour group he led into Antelope Canyon near Page, Ariz.

Eleven people died; he alone lived. Now he's written a book, wrestling with the demons that have haunted him. When Quintana climbed into a crack in the ground with 11 European tourists in 1997, he didn't know a wall of water was racing toward that same crack from a storm 30 miles away.

It seems unexplainable how he survived the Niagara that surged through Antelope Canyon. It grabbed 12 people, thrashing them through the twisting sandstone like chunks of debris. Here, Quintana was briefly trapped in an eddy.

"I notice the rock formation and how it circles," Quintana said while standing in the canyon. "This is where we were stuck. So that's why it kept us in here! Always wondered that - why it wouldn't let us shoot us out of here."

Eventually the torrent did shoot him out and down a steep, double waterfall into an abyss. Antelope Canyon finally spit him out alive, but it killed his 11 customers, two of whom were never found.

"I was inundated by guilt and responsibility. Fear. Anger. And those are things that I carried around with me," Quintana said.

"Breathe For Me," his new book, is his attempt to understand the tragedy and his life. He's returned to Antelope Canyon many times.

"I had to come back to this canyon to understand it," Quintana said.

This trip will be his last to the canyon.

"It's over. I mean it's really over. It's time to move on. There's nothing left for me down there," Quintana said.

Something was different on this trip.

"I'm not scared no more," Quintana said. "I was more at peace. It's over. It's over. I saw the beauty in it. I saw, I felt the walls and i understood the, I actually understood the magnitude of what happened."

Writing his book, he realized he'd been carrying emotional baggage from his childhood; guilt, fear and anger that started long before the tragedy. Confronting those truths liberated him from his past and allowed him to see the canyon in a new way.

"I had a complete understanding of the canyon; its beauty. And I got to enjoy that for the first time," Quintana said. "It affirmed what I'm thinking. It affirmed how huge this was. And how over it I am. Huh."

Quintana plans to donate any profits from his book to some homes for orphans that he's setting up. He wants to help those with trouble-childhoods like his own.


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