Pa. couple survives 4 days in desert

June 10, 2008 5:30:40 AM PDT
A retired central Pennsylvania couple stranded in their compact car in the Utah desert for four days subsisted on crackers and soda before hiking to safety.

Ray and Sue Beard are back home safe after spending four harrowing days in the desert when the directions supplied by their portable navigation device led them far off the beaten path in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a 1.9-million acre stretch of rugged public land in sparsely inhabited southern Utah, on May 27.

Sue Beard, a former editor of The Waynesboro Record Herald, and her husband, Ray, 67, were traveling from the northern edge of Arizona to Torrey, Utah, when they became stuck and damaged their rented car on a winding, deserted mountain road.

"I know finding us would have been like finding a needle in a haystack," said Sue Beard, 61. "When we got stuck, I was sure we weren't going to make it."

With only scant supplies, including peanut butter crackers and Diet Coke, their situation looked dire. Married just five months, they wrote letters to their family and amendments to their wills while they weathered daytime temperatures in the 90s and nighttime lows in the 30s for four days and nights.

"We each had three crackers every morning and we savored them like juicy steaks," Sue Beard said.

During the day, they would open the car doors for ventilation, but that would attract chigoe fleas that left them with hundreds of bites.

Well aware that they would not last much longer unless they ventured out for help, the Beards gathered their remaining supplies on May 31 and tried to hike back to a main road.

Battling dehydration, it took the couple more than five hours to cover a little over 7½ miles before they curled up to rest under a black umbrella. They were awakened by the sound of a passing motorcycle and were eventually able to get the attention of another group of riders.

"We had been praying for our angels of mercy," Sue Beard said. "We had no idea they would be on motorcycles!"

The couple were airlifted to a hospital in Page, Ariz., and given intravenous fluids, but spent just five hours in the emergency room.

The Beards hope their experience will serve as a warning to other motorists who travel in unfamiliar territory without double-checking the route supplied by a GPS device. There were no signs along the route warning them of the treacherous conditions that lay ahead, the Beards said.

The ordeal has renewed Sue Beard's religious faith and she will begin attending services with her husband.

"I'm just tickled by that," Ray Beard said.

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Information from: The Record Herald, http://www.therecordherald.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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