The search for two missing southwestern Utah men ended Monday afternoon when their bodies were found among helicopter wreckage in a remote area of Emery County.
The helicopter and its two occupants, pilot Robin Venuti, 38, from Washington, Utah, and Albert Rubio, 36, of Beaver, were reported overdue to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office about nine hours after they began their flight at 11:15 a.m. Sunday. According to the sheriff’s office, the men had been looking for shed elk antlers.
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter assisted the search Sunday evening using its FLIR (forward looking infra-red) technology. However, after finding no signs of the helicopter or men, they ended the night search at about midnight and resumed Monday morning. Attempts to “ping” the men’s cell phones also failed.
Crews from the sheriff’s offices of Grand and Emery counties, DPS, the Department of Agriculture and Civil Air Patrol combed a 200-square-mile area. Earlier news reports stated that the victims’ families brought their own helicopters and planes to assist in the search, but Darrel Mecham, chief deputy of the Ground County Sheriff’s office, said they did not participate.
The search took them into areas of Emery, Grand, and Carbon counties over the rugged terrain of the Book Cliffs.
“There’s a lot of country up there – deep canyons, ravines – and it takes a lot of time to move up and down them,” Mecham said.
“We started doing a pattern that would take you into the Range Creek, Desolation Canyon area,” Emery County Sheriff’s Captain Jeff Thomas said.
At approximately 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office reported that the helicopter had been located in the Range Creek area of Emery County. A fixed-wing aircraft assisting in the search picked up a signal from the emergency beacon on the crashed helicopter, Mecham said. The DPS helicopter was then able to locate the crash site.
This area has limited ground access via a steep and narrow unimproved road, according to the Utah Natural History Museum, the managing agency for the Range Creek Field Station. However, despite the steep terrain, the DPS helicopter was able to land near the crash site.
From there, responders hiked in, Thomas said.
All recovery efforts have been turned over to Emery county, the sheriff’s department said. Thomas said that investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration are currently on the scene examining the mechanical aspects of the helicopter to determine the cause of the crash.
According to the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), people hunting for shed antlers comb Utah’s backcountry every spring looking for antlers that have dropped from the heads of deer, elk or moose over the winter. Antlers are frequently made into things such as furniture, lamps, and door handles.
People who want to gather shed antlers in Utah between Feb. 1 and April 15, must complete an Antler Gathering Ethics course. In recent years, some western states have outlawed the practice at certain times of year.
Wreckage found near Green River; Sheriff’s office assisted in searching rugged terrain