Print Page

Searchers find bodies of missing men: 'Unsurvivable' plunge off cliff road in Cottonwood Canyon

Wreckage of the Jeep Grand Cherokee lies at the bottom of a ravine hundreds of feet below a switchback near the top of Cottonwood Road. A rescue team descended by rope to the vehicle. The road leads to the remote man camp on the Tavaputs Plateau where the men had been staying.
Lt. Tom Stefanoff of the Carbon County Sheriff's Department surveys a map with pilot Shane Gonzales before a flight to search for the missing pair from Colorado on Friday morning.
Volunteer searchers prepare to depart from the headquarters at the Holiday Inn in Price. It was the ground search that led to the discovery of the wreckage and bodies in Cottonwood Canyon.

Sun Advocate publisher

The four day search for two Colorado men that were reported missing this past week ended tragically on Sunday at 12:20 p.m. when searchers found their Jeep Cherokee in a deep canyon just below the man camp they had been driving back to eight days before.

The vehicle was reportedly found by some family members who had been searching the area around Cottonwood Canyon along with dozens of other volunteers. At the time, no one could make it down to the actual wreck, so rescue personnel had to be brought in from Price. It took them about two hours to reach the site. There they found the bodies of Mark Widegren and Brian Axe.

The 28-year-old men had been working on a pipeline in the Nine Mile Canyon area until they came to Price for some relaxation on Jan. 24. Axe called his wife at 11:30 that night as he and Widegren sat in the Silver Dollar and watched a game on television. They were not heard from after that. The two men had been working for W.C. Streigel Inc. and left work about 5:30 p.m. that day.

The search didn't start until Wednesday of last week because no one from their family knew they were missing until that day when one of their co-workers called a family member and said that they hadn't shown up for work that week. Because of the delayed reporting no one outside of the work area worried that anything out of the usual had occurred.

Last Friday evening it was reported that officials had been working with Emery Telcom on finding the signal of the men's cell phones. Unfortunately no real time signals could be found, but it was revealed that the cell phones continued to operate until about three hours after Axe called his wife. With that information authorities were able to center their search a little more because the last signals came from east of Price toward the Nine Mile area.

On Friday a Utah Public Safety helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft searched the entire area for the vehicle. Then on Saturday at least three airplanes took off to look for the men. But even with all that it was just someone noticing something different on the road to the man camp that brought the search to the end.

Saturday and Sunday morning dozens of four wheel drive trucks and trailers with ATV's were lined up at the Holiday Inn as volunteers and family got ready to go out and search.

"What we need is 2,000 people searching and that would help us cover all the ground we need to cover," said one Colorado woman as she stood on an ATV trailer on Sunday morning.

The two men were lifelong friends, said Todd Widegren, a spokesman for the family and Mark's oldest brother. Todd told the Sun Advocate on Sunday morning, "Mark came up to work with his good friend Brian for a couple of months," since Mark's landscape business was slow in Grand Junction for the winter. He also said that Mark was one of nine children in the family and the eight siblings were in Carbon County searching on Sunday, along with all of Axe's family as well.

Word of the discovery of the wreck spread quickly on Sunday afternoon. Sheriff's Deputy Wally Hendricks had been monitoring the search since it began and he spent time with the family that was at the Holiday Inn after the word came in. The hopes were still high that they could still be alive for some time because since no one could make it down the steep incline to the wreckage right away. But soon after recovery crews reached the Jeep Cherokee word came that the crash was unsurvivable.

The man camp the men were staying in was just above Cottonwood Canyon and the climb to it requires as steep incline with switchbacks that have sharp turns. It appears the men drove off one of those turns for some reason. It is hundreds of feet to the bottom of the canyon from those turns.

"I can't tell you exactly where they found the vehicle at this point, but I know that the rescuers were asking for 2,000 feet of rope to be able to access the wreck site," said Hendricks on the phone Sunday evening.

The bodies were recovered around 6 p.m. and were brought down from Nine Mile Canyon under the direction of Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova, who was on the scene. They have been sent to the State Medical Examiner's office for positive identification.

According to Hendricks, the Utah Highway Patrol will be handling the accident investigation.

Todd Widegren praised the community and businesses in the area that helped with services and supplies. He said that of particular help were Wells Fargo, who helped set up an account for donated funds for the search, and the Holiday Inn, where a command post was set up in one of the banquet rooms. Many others donated supplies and food.

He also said that the Sheriff's department, Search and Rescue and other volunteers had been generous with their time and efforts.

Print Page