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Man with broken leg survives 4 days in Utah desert

A 64-year-old man who broke his leg while hiking crawled through the Utah desert for four days near Canyonlands National Park before rangers rescued him.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A North Carolina man crawled four days across the Utah desert after breaking his leg on a solo hike, inspired by a Hollywood movie about a man who cut off his own arm to save himself after being trapped by a boulder in the same canyon.

Amos Wayne Richards, 64, of Concord, N.C., is now recovering at home.

Canyonlands National Park rangers found Richards four days after he fell 10 feet in Little Blue John Canyon on Sept. 8. Along with the leg injury, he dislocated his shoulder but was able to work it back into place.

""It took me about 3 or 4 minutes to work my shoulder and get it back in place and once I got it back in place, I stood up and realized my ankle hurt a little bit," Richards told WBTV in Charlotte.

Without cell phone service and only two protein bars to eat, Richards began crawling back to his car across the rocky terrain. He filled his water bottles with rain as he painstakingly retraced his steps, eventually dragging himself almost five miles.

"I was actually following my GPS, crawling right on top of my feet print that I had hiked in on," Richards said.

Rangers first began looking for Richards Sept. 9 after his campsite was found unattended, said Denny Ziemann, chief ranger for Canyonlands and Arches national parks. They discovered his car two days later at the trailhead for Little Blue John Canyon, which is part of the Canyonlands remote and rugged Maze District but technically outside park boundaries.

"The search was pretty quick and dirty" once they realized where Richards had gone hiking, Ziemann said. Within hours, a helicopter spotted Richards — who used the flash on his camera to catch the pilot's attention — only a couple of miles from his car.

Richards was treated for the shattered leg and dehydration at a hospital in Moab, Utah, before returning to North Carolina to recover.

Ziemann said the result could have been much worse for Richards because he went hiking alone and without telling anybody his plans. Temperatures in the region were in the 80s during the day and 60s at night.

"We make a lot of rescues of people, but we usually know where they are," Ziemann said. "They were either hiking with somebody and got hurt or if they were hiking alone, they told people where they were going."

In 2003, climber Aron Ralston hiked into the same canyon also without telling anyone his plans. He became trapped by a boulder and was forced to cut off his own arm to free himself. Ralston went on to detail his struggles in a book. His story was later adapted into the Oscar-nominated movie "127 Hours."


Josh Loftin can be reached at