BAILEY, Colo. (CBS4) – Pastor Jay Vonesh of the Platte Canyon Community Church in Bailey, wife Julie, and teenage daughters Jessie and Janae, along with their dog Jamocha were kayaking on the Escalante River in southern Utah when they ran into rocks that spilled them into the water Friday.
They were about 60 miles east of Lake Powell.
“I was then just under water and didn’t really know what was happening and I thought I was going to die,” Janae Vonesh said.
“Anyone of us could have gotten taken out and lost our lives at that moment going under the boulders and under the rocks,” Jay Vonesh said.
They lost their paddles but were able to recover sleeping bags, a tent and other supplies. They dried them out and spent two more nights camping along the river.
The family told CBS4 they tried to hike out, but the canyon walls were too steep. They had sufficient food but no way to communicate to the outside world.
On Sunday they prayed in hopes they would get out of the dangerous situation. Two minutes later it appeared their prayers had been answered. They heard the sound of a helicopter and then could see it flying low through the canyon.
“We were scared at that point and we prayed and within two minutes of our prayers a helicopter came down into our canyon,” Julie Vonesh said.
It turns out the helicopter was on a mission to find someone else — another kayaker. The family waved their arms madly. The pilot spotted them and was able to land on a sandbar.
“We saw a guy step out onto a sandbar and started waving at us and signaling and waving his hat in the air,” Luke Bowman with the Utah Department of Public Safety said.
The helicopter from the Utah Department of Public Safety took the family out of the canyon in two ferry loads.
Back in Bailey at their church they gave thanks to their rescuers and expressed relief they lived to tell their story.
“It truly was a miracle of Biblical proportions,” Jay Vonesh said.
The other kayaker that the helicopter had been seeking managed to make it out safely on his own.
The Vonesh family’s sense of adventure and love of the outdoors has not diminished. Jay Vonesh called the rescuers “my angels who were on a mission from God.”