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3 California families stranded in cabin on Kolob Mountains refused search and rescue assistance

Southern Utah

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NEW HARMONY (ABC4 News) – Search and Rescue crews from Washington and Iron counties conducted a massive search over the Thanksgiving weekend to rescue three California families stuck in the Southern Utah mountains during a big snowstorm.

Washington County Search and Rescue liaison Sgt. Darrell Cashin told ABC4 News three couples with up to 10 children became stranded in their cabin up in the Kolob Mountains. The families were running out of food, water, and propane that provided heat and were also losing power. But when first responders finally reached them, Cashin said the families refused to be rescued.

“To just go through all that effort, coordination with another agency, handpicking a few people with the right equipment, it’s very much a let down to have them just refuse to be rescued,” Cashin said. “It’s just such a letdown.”

Cashin said the families initially hired a recovery service to dig out their vehicles. The company called the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Friday evening saying workers had blown a serpentine belt on one of their Jeeps.

“It was getting late, so he told the families to go back to their cabin. The snow was coming down, and the wind was blowing hard. There were almost 30 inches of snow at that point,” he said.

Cashin called Sheriff Cory C. Pulsipher, who received information from another source that the owner had called the families Wednesday, alerting them of the coming storm and asking them to get off the mountain. The families allegedly refused to leave, emphasizing some of their vehicles had four-wheel drive.

Another cabin owner with cameras facing the families’ cabin said that before the major part of the storm hit, the couples had all their vehicles’ lights shining on their cabin, indicating that the power was starting to fail, according to rescue crews. The owner of the cabin also mentioned that the propane used for heat was very low.

“My main concern was the cold,” Cashin added. “If that propane was out, it was dropping down to around 10 degrees at night, and if you don’t have heat over time, you’re going to face hypothermia very quickly.”

Washington County Search and Rescue brought together five of its volunteers with Jeeps and three Iron County Search and Rescue members, who brought a snowcat to assist. The group began their ascent up the mountain early Saturday morning, authorities said. After two hours, the Jeeps had trouble plowing through the two to four feet of snow to get into Black Canyon. The snowcat was able to make it all the way up the mountain after several hours and reach the family.

“‘How are your supplies?’ They go, ‘Well, we’re down to our last beer and we have a bunch of snacks.'” We asked, ‘Why don’t you come off, we’ll get you to a hotel to warm up and we can get somebody to dig you out?'” Cashin said. “They just flat out refused to leave. They said, ‘We’re not leaving without our cars.'”

The rescue teams said they tried to convince the families to at least allow the women and children to be rescued, but again, they refused. After more than 9 hours of clearing a path, SAR crews said they had no choice but to turn around.

“I want to thank the Iron County Search and Rescue for coming. I feel bad that it turned out the way it did, but you just can’t rescue people that don’t want to be rescued,” Cashin added. “It is very disheartening, but we’re ready for the next one. I’m sure it’ll be coming.”

The families made it off the mountain safely late Sunday afternoon after allegedly hiring another recovery service to free their vehicles. Their efforts took another full day to complete, requiring permission from the National Park Service, according to authorities.

The incident marked the 121st rescue for Washington County SAR teams in 2019, Cashin said.

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