RENO, Nev. (AP) — A single, desperate cry for help went through to family members too late to save a woman’s husband after the Indiana couple had been lost in Nevada’s high-desert wilderness for more than a week.
“37.757753, -117.809568. Help.”
It was a delayed text with GPS coordinates from Beverly Barker, 69, who survived the ordeal and was reported in good shape at a Reno hospital Wednesday, the day after rescuers found her and the body of her husband, Ronnie, 72.
Their nephew, Travis Peters, said in a Wednesday Facebook post that he can only assume that as his aunt was being airlifted to the hospital — or perhaps her belongings were being brought down the mountain — her phone came into cell range and the message was sent late Tuesday.
“Now we know it arrived too late,” wrote Peters, who has been highly critical of law enforcement for what he says was too little too late in terms of a search for the Barkers.
The couple was found Tuesday in the mountainous, forested high-desert in the remote Silver Peak area of Esmeralda County about 177 miles (284 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, west of Goldfield and east of the California line.
Both were with the Kia passenger car they had been towing behind a 32-foot (9.8-meter) motor home before the RV got stuck in mud. They apparently decided to try to continue on in the car before it too got stuck.
Because of rough roads in the area, authorities opted to have Beverly Barker airlifted to a Reno hospital to be checked out, Mineral County Undersheriff Bill Ferguson told The Associated Press.
She had melted snow for water and the car provided shelter from temperatures that dipped into the 30s (-1.1 C) at night, he said Wednesday. “She would get out and go for little walks.”
Family members who reported the Barkers missing have said in numerous social media posts they left on a cross-country trip last month and were expected to return this week to their home in Indianapolis. They said the couple departed Albany, Oregon, on March 27 and planned to meet with friends in Tucson, Arizona, on March 29.
One of four aircraft that had been searching for the couple with the Civilian Air Patrol spotted the RV from the air about midday on Tuesday.
“Due to the remote area where the motorhome was located it took several hours for (search and rescue) teams to reach it,” the Esmeralda County sheriff's office said in a statement Wednesday.
“After a search of the motorhome, it was determined foul play was not involved,” it said. It said the teams then found tire tracks they were able to follow to the Kia about 2 miles (3 km) away.
Esmeralda County sheriff's officials haven't responded to requests for additional information.
Ferguson said he has no idea how the couple ended up where they did.
“What led them down that path, I don’t know. I don’t know if it was GPS or Google. I don’t know why they were there," Ferguson said.
“It was just one bad decision after another," he said. “At some point I would have thought they would have stopped sooner and disconnected the car. They probably lost their direction, took a wrong turn and then the car became stuck.”
Ferguson said the couple had video that indicated they were in the Silver Peak area since March 27, but he didn’t have information on when Ronnie Barker died or the cause of his death.
Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity, who has been in the area numerous times as his group protests a planned lithium mine where an extremely rare desert wildflower grows, said a single graded road crosses the mountain range in that area coming west out of Silver Peak.
“Getting an RV towing a vehicle up that road would be insane, but within the realm of possibility,” he said Wednesday.
Peters, the couple's nephew who lives in Indiana, directed most of his criticism about the handling of the search at Esmeralda County Sheriff Kenneth Elgan, who did not immediately respond Wednesday to phone calls or emails seeking comment.
Peters said in his social media posts that "my sorrow is just overshadowed by the fact that they didn’t get to them in time.”
He said his uncle might still be alive “if a search had been initiated in a more timely manner (not 3+ days after we reported them missing).”
Peters told KVVU-TV in Las Vegas the death creates a hole in the family that will never be filled.
“He’s just a bigger-than-life personality,” he said. “Thank God that Beverly is alive, because she will be able to fill in those blanks that we don’t know. Why did they go up the mountain? What happened? She's going to be able to tell us."
Davenport reported from Phoenix, Arizona