Elderly couple survives six days in the desert

Rescued by cowboy

An elderly couple from Houston are happy to be alive and thanking their lucky stars after surviving six days in the desert without food, and drinking only small amounts of rain water and their own urine.

On Sept. 26, Gerald Byler, 76, and his wife Helena Byler, 78, became stranded in the backcountry of the Grand Staircase-Escalante after their GPS led them down the wrong road, according to Alan Alldredge, chief deputy in the Kane County Sheriff’s Office.

After they were found, Gerald Byler was transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center and placed into the intensive care unit. Helena Byler spent one night in Kane County Hospital and was then discharged and transported to St. George to be with her husband.

The rescue was set in motion by Dell LeFevre, a cowboy from Boulder, Utah, who was checking on his cattle early Oct. 2 when he found Helena lying on Croton Road severely dehydrated and confused.  LeFevre immediately contacted police and transported the elderly woman to a main road, where they met with the sheriff’s deputy who then took her to the Kane County Hospital. 

The story they tell of their six days lost in the desert is quite incredible. 

The Bylers left their hotel in Kanab on the morning of Sept. 26 for a day trip to Lake Powell using a GPS device to guide them. For whatever reason, the GPS unit guided them into the barren country of the Grand Staircase-Escalante. After driving across roads that were gradually becoming rougher and rockier — and no other traffic — Helena expressed her concern to her husband.

“I told Gerry, ‘Sweetheart, this doesn’t seem right,” Helena recalled. 

But her husband told her it would be OK.  

“See, us women know better,” Helena said with a chuckle. 

Eventually they reached a road sign that warned only vehicles with 4WD should proceed farther, and a short way beyond that they got a flat tire. The GPS showed they were still 16 miles from Lake Powell. 

“There was no way back or forward, there was nothing,” Helena Byler said. “In that moment, we knew it was impossible. We had to do something about it, so when the GPS said 16 miles, I said, ‘I can do 16 miles.’”

They spent the first night in their car. The next morning, Helena left to get help. 

By then Gerald’s knee was hurting too much for him to walk fast enough to keep pace with his wife. Before the day ended Helena was lost and dehydrated, she said. 

She drank muddy water from rain puddles and resorted to drinking her own urine. 

She says she doesn’t remember if this happened the first night or later in the ordeal.

Sometime later, whether hours or days she doesn’t know, she began hallucinating.

During her hallucinations, she distinctly remembers talking to a dispatcher named Theresa. No area police agencies have a record of this call, police said. 

And still more hallucinations.

“I went to a place that I saw, maybe in my mind, made of marble, the walls different colors, beautiful,” said Helena. “And I talked to the girl again. I said, ‘I’m in the wrong place.’ And she said, ‘Go back.’”

During her hallucinations, Helena also imagined meeting a group of Native American women, dressed in white and dancing in a large marble tent.

At some point during her journey to find help, Helena found a camp trailer, which contained a case of bottled water and canned food, but there’s no evidence that Helena drank any of the water or ate any of the food. 

Helena, still having hallucinations, reported to police officers that while in the trailer that she was aware that it contained food and water but people were guarding it and wouldn’t let her have it.

LeFevre found her on the road five days later, Alldredge said. 

After finding Helena, search and rescue teams found Gerald in a separate abandoned trailer not too far away from Helena. Despite his knee and his own dehydration Gerald had struck out in search of his wife.

“We had to rely on God,” said Gerald. “Nothing else was happening.”

As of Monday, the couple’s health had improved significantly. Doctors expect them to recover completely.

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