‘We can’t force people to be rescued’; search and rescue attempts to save stranded families after snowstorm

ST. GEORGE — Search and rescue teams worked together to rescue three families stranded on a mountain in Kolob after winter storms blanketed the area with snow.

Washington County and Iron County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue teams work together to rescue three families stranded in a cabin they rented for the holiday weekend, Kolob, Utah, Nov. 30, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin told St. George News three couples with six children had found themselves snowed into a cabin they had rented from Airbnb. The families, who were visiting from California, hired a private company to dig themselves and their three vehicles out of the inches of snow that had built up over the holiday weekend.

The company’s vehicles experienced mechanical issues while completing the job and were unable to finish. The private company contacted the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to report that three families were stranded on the mountain with little resources.

The company also informed first responders that the families were running out of propane — which they were using to heat the cabin — and electricity was going in and out. With the frigid weather conditions, being without power or heat is potentially life-threatening, Cashin said, and the teams jumped into action.

Washington County Search and Rescue made their way to Kolob on Saturday. They working to clear a path with their Jeeps for over two hours before contacting Iron County Search and Rescue for additional assistance. Iron County brought its snowcat to aid in the rescue and made it to the families first.

Washington County and Iron County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue teams work together to rescue three families stranded in a cabin they rented for the holiday weekend, Kolob, Utah, Nov. 30, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

The families told rescue teams that they were down to their last beer and a few snacks but refused to be taken off of the mountain without their vehicles.

“We can’t force people to be rescued if they don’t want to,” Cashin said.” Search and rescue is about life or limb; we’re about saving people’s lives and saving lost people. We’re not about pulling vehicles out of the snow.”

In the past, search and rescue teams have helped people pull their cars out of the snow, but this is done on a case-by-case basis and usually involves the stuck vehicle blocking traffic or being a hazard in some way and is relatively easy to get free.

Cashin said he and the other volunteers tried to convince the families to come off of the mountain, or at the very least, let the women and children be rescued and taken to a hotel, but the families refused to leave the cabin without their vehicles.

Both search and rescue teams left the scene without the families.

Washington County and Iron County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue teams work together to rescue three families stranded in a cabin they rented for the holiday weekend, Kolob, Utah, Nov. 30, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

“It’s kind of too bad, but that’s sometimes the situations we find ourselves in on rescues,” Cashin said. “It does happen on occasion.”

Despite instances like this being “all a part of working in emergency response,” Cashin says it can be frustrating and deflating for volunteers to put in all of the work just to be told to turn around, especially when, as in this case, teams worked for over nine hours to clear a path.

This was the only rescue that Washington County Search and Rescue participated in over the holiday weekend, but Cashin said that is because most people were on their toes and made conscious decisions to be safe.

Several people in Kolob, he said, had their vehicles get stuck in the snow and opted to have friends and family pick them up to get off of the mountain instead of staying put or attempting to pull the vehicles out themselves.  After the snow melted a little and the inclement weather subsided, residents were able to retrieve their cars in safer conditions.

Cashin said the family did make it off of the mountain safe and sound just before sunset Sunday afternoon. The family reportedly hired another private company to plow the area and get their vehicles free, but it took another day to complete and had to be coordinated with the National Park Service.

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