John Hollenhorst Reporting
The sole survivor of a disastrous flash flood has broken his silence after seven years. In his first televised interview he returned to the Utah-Arizona border and the spectacular canyon that still haunts him to this day.
The flash flood was in the unique and much loved Antelope Canyon near Lake Powell. It was one of the worst disasters of its kind in decades -- it killed eleven people. And ever since, Pancho Quintana has been looking for two young men who are still missing.
It began on a clear day in August seven years ago. Pancho Quintana entered a crack in the ground. He was a tour guide leading European tourists into a labyrinthian paradise. Even today, the world-famous beauty is not lost on him.
Pancho Quintana: "No, it's beautiful, for a second. Then it gets scary again."
On the seventh anniversary, Quintana motored across Lake Powell to the lower end of Antelope Canyon.
Pancho Quintana: “I can’t escape this. Like a bad nightmare.”
He now thinks of each anniversary as another birthday.
Pancho Quintana: “Well, I kind of got another shot at life, so I celebrate here, you know.”
He comes every year, looking for two tourists who vanished.
Pancho Quintana: "My trip really doesn't end until, as a tour leader, until all your passengers go home."
Lake Powell is lower now by 120 vertical feet. That's exposed more of the lower canyon where Quintana wound up after the flood washed him out of the slot canyon.
Pancho Quintana: "Was beyond imagination. I never knew there was something that powerful."
Before disaster struck, Quintana had spent six days with his tour group, camping, hiking, biking, and rafting. He remembers philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and death.
Pancho Quintana: "When I look back, it was almost like everybody was preparing each other to die, if that makes sense."
A plaque at Antelope Canyon memorializes the 11 who died. Anders Wassenius of Sweden and Thierry Castell of France were never found.
Pancho Quintana: "We've combed pretty much every crack in here, outside of a handful."
Seven bodies were found in one part of the canyon in the first three days. But they were 50 feet higher than where you would walk now. That's how much debris and sediment the flash flood brought down.
The eighth and ninth bodies were found later. Searchers never found any trace of the others.
Pancho Quintana: “Once again, Mother Nature prevails.”
The original flood debris has now been washed away by smaller floods. Quintana's hopes are washing away too after seven years of fruitless searching. Pancho Quintana: “This is the last time. We’re not gonna, we’re not gonna find them.”
The details of how Pancho Quintana survived the flood is an amazing story in itself. He told it to us for the first time on TV. We'll have his gripping account Wednesday on Eyewitness News at 6:30.