Saturday September 14, 1996 was supposed to be a fun, six hour trek for a group of 13 hikers from Highland, Utah. The group planned on hiking through a unique section of slot canyon known as "The Black Hole". By all accounts, the Highland party that entered the Black Hole was experienced. Many of the group members had traversed the slot canyon before; several had multiple trips to their credit.
Wearing shorts, T-shirts, life preservers and fanny packs stuffed with food and drinks, the five adults and eight teenagers departed the trailhead at 10 a.m. The sky was blue and the hikers felt safe with so much previous experience. However, the group was missing an important fragment of information. During the night a giant thunderstorm had hit the upper drainage located 30 miles east in Natural Bridges National Monument. The storm had dumped thousands of gallons of rain onto the slickrock and a wall of water had rushed through the night and was about to explode into the Black Hole.
The hikers suspected trouble when the ankle-deep water they were hiking in quickly rose to knee deep. The group stopped for about an hour at a large boulder to contemplate what they should do. At this time the water was not really rushing and did not appear too sinister. The group had not yet grasped the adversity they were about to face.
Suddenly, the knee-deep water turned to a wicked violent torrent, shoving everything in its path through the narrow corridor that forms the Black Hole. The group realized they had to get to high ground, and fast. This meant jumping off a platform of rocks, across the deluge of water. Six in the group made it. The remaining seven scrambled up the narrows to a ledge above the water. Tanya Humpheries was the last in line. She lost her footing and slipped, falling into a cove filled with frigid water. Although Tanya was not in danger of being swept away, her companions worried about her getting hypothermia. The group decided to take action.
Gary Vawdrey tied six life jackets together with square knots. After five tries, he swung the makeshift life preserver rope to Tanya. She wrapped the makeshift rope around her wrist and jumped into the water wearing her personal life preserver. Tanya could not pull herself up and out of the water. She slipped into a rocky hole where the rushing water was being funneled. The weight of the water pounding down caused the makeshift rope to slide off her wrist. Tanya slipped down in between the rocks. She was next spotted some 20 seconds and 200 feet downstream where she resurfaced. To those standing on the shore it appeared as if she was unconscious. Tanya was sweep round the corner and out of sight.
T.J. Humpheries (Tanya's father) was helpless standing there watching as his daughter was
swept away. Tanya's brother and sister were also witnessing the catastrophe.
A Search and
Rescue team attempted a search Saturday night, but conditions were too dark and dangerous.
A search helicopter from the Arizona Department of Public Safety flew to the canyon about
3 a.m. Sunday, its crew was using special night vision goggles, but they were unable to
locate the hikers.
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