What started off as a couples’ trip into rural Utah quickly became a fight for survival.
Helena and Gerald Byler are lucky to be alive after getting stranded along a remote canyon trail in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Locked in a struggle against time, and their own resilience, the couple had a vacation they won’t soon forget.
The elderly couple left their hotel in Kanab, Utah early on the morning of September 26th, according to KSL. They entered Lake Powell into their GPS, which estimated the trip would take 70 minutes. Several hours later, they knew something wasn’t right.
As it turns out, their GPS was leading them to Powell Trail, not the popular tourist site. Authorities have had problems with navigation units leading cars astray in that area in the past.
“I told Gerry, ‘Sweetheart, this doesn’t sound right.’ And he said, ‘No it’s ok’ … He wanted to continue. See, us women know better,” she said with a chuckle to KSL.
HAPPENING NOW: 78-yr-old Helena Byler and 76-yr-old Gerald Byler tell @KSL5TV how they survived six days in #Utah's Grand Staircase Nat'l Monument by drinking rainwater and own urine. @KSLcom @kslnewsradio https://t.co/1MY9MX07bx pic.twitter.com/SZdiHojf6W
— Ladd Egan (@laddegan) October 13, 2017
Gerald, 76, and Helena, 78, continued driving until the terrain became too treacherous for their rental car to navigate. When they came to a sign indicating that cars lacking four-wheel drive should turn around, Gerald insisted they continue. It wasn’t long before a tire popped, rendering the car totally immobile.
The couple hoped that they would see another car pass by before too long, but without cell service and realizing they were in total isolation, they knew waiting to be found was as good as a death sentence. Their GPS told them they were only 16 miles from their destination, and the couple set out to cover the rest of the trail by foot.
As the terrain grew more rocky and dangerous, Gerald couldn’t continue on. His knees were in searing pain, and having covered very little ground, he knew he wouldn’t make it. The couple decided to turn around, but failed to make it back to the car before nightfall. They spent the night in the pouring rain, with lightning cracking brilliantly just a few hundred feet from them.
Gerald Byler couldn’t continue, and it was up to Helena to go find help and save their lives. Gerald Byler said he was shocked by the isolation.
“Nothing came by. Nothing came driving. And if I heard a bird tweet, I’d holler ‘Hello’,” Gerald Byler said.
Helena started walking, but she had no idea how difficult the journey would be. She was forced to drink her own urine to combat dehydration, and she soon began to hallucinate.
She vividly recalls speaking to a dispatcher named Theresa who said that rescue attempts on her husband were already underway. There is no record of this call. She also recalls seeing a tribe of Navajo Native Americans who were dressed in all white and dancing ceremonially around marble tents.
Police believe she experienced these hallucinations while attempting to find shelter in an abandoned trailer. Alan Alldredge, chief deputy in the Kane County Sheriff’s Office says that there was a broken case of water bottles and canned food in the trailer.
Helena Byler claims she didn’t eat the food because there were men guarding it that didn’t let her have any.
“She was definitely seeing things, but they were very vivid to her, even after it had taken place and she had gotten out of the hospital. Those things were still very real to her,” Alldredge told KSL.
Helena Byler was found wandering on the road after five days without food or water.
Luckily for Byler, a local farmer named Dell LeFevre was checking in on his cattle early in the morning of October 2. He described Byler as being dehydrated, confused, and incoherent. LeFevre escorted her to the main road and contacted authorities.
Once at the Kane County hospital, she received food and water and could recall what happened to her. The search then turned towards finding Gerald Byler.
Police assumed he would still be at the car that was left stranded on the road. Time was of the essence, so the police department dispatched their helicopter which located the vehicle within minutes. Gerald wasn’t there.
Emergencies crews worked their way back up the road. They found Gerald Byler alive and seeking shelter in an abandoned trailer.
The trailer Gerald Byler was in was one of several abandoned trailers in the area. Police suspect Helena stayed in a nearby trailer, unaware that she was so close.
“This little trailer house, there’s no heat, there’s no water, there’s no A/C, but there’s no wind on the inside,” Gerald Byler said.
He needed immediate medical attention. Gerald was quickly transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center and placed into the intensive care unit. Helena Byler needed only one night in the hospital to get her strength back. She was discharged the following morning and has been at her husband’s side ever since.
“It’s totally unbelievable,” Alldredge said. “One more day would probably have resulted in a very different outcome.”
The Bylers know they are lucky to be alive, and they aren’t taking their amazing story of salvation for granted. Helena Tyler has fully recovered, and Gerald continues to progress on the road to recovery in the hospital.
“It won’t keep us from coming back (to Utah),” Gerald Byler said. “But I’ll do a little more planning next time.”