3 missing men identified in massive Colorado landslide


by Janet Oravetz, Raquel Villanueva, KUSA-TV; Glenn Farley, KING 5 News


Posted on May 26, 2014 at 7:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 27 at 8:39 AM

DENVER, Colo., & SEATTLE, Wash. -- Three people are missing after a massive landslide in western Colorado that is estimated to be 200 feet deep.

The three missing men were identified as Clancy Nichols, 51, his son Danny Nichols, 24, and Wes Hawkins, 46.

Mesa County officials said today the slide is 2.5 to three miles long. Deputies describe the area as very unstable, and estimate that an entire ridge was sliding for most of Sunday.

"This slide is unbelievably big," said Lt. Phil Stratton with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.

"Massive is an understatement," said Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey on Monday. He said the three missing were sent up to investigate disrupted irrigation. They were traveling in a vehicle and a 4-wheeler when a massive landslide occurred.

Hilkey said the search has been hampered because only the lower third of the slide is stable. At the edges there, the mud is 20 to 30 feet deep.

Hilkey said everyone is praying for a miracle but said no signs of the men or their truck have been found.

Hilkey says he has consulted with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, which responded to March's landslide in Washington. Hilkey asked for advice on how to handle the search for survivors and the long-term impacts.

The Oso slide occurred around 10:45 a.m. on March 22, 2014, and wiped out a neighborhood along the north fork of the Stillguamish River. Forty-one people are confirmed dead by the Snohomish County Coroner and the family of Steven Hadaway, one of the two people still officially listed as missing, has confirmed Hadaway's body was found.

One of the things rescuers in Snohomish County learned by working with scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey was how to find the victims based on the flow pattern of the slide debris. A technique that might prove useful in the search for the three people missing in Colorado.

"I know they're residents of what we call the Collbran-Mesa area," said Heather Benjamin with the Mesa County Sheriff''s Office.

"Those are two small towns up there on the Grand Mesa, which to us would typically indicate that they're familiar with the terrain. They're probably very outdoorsy, probably very prepared for the severe weather and being stuck in the mountains overnight, and those kinds of things."

The first reports of the landslide came into the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center about 6:15 p.m. Sunday.

The Plateau Valley Fire Department responded to the area just east of the small town of Collbran after a witness called into dispatch after hearing a noise that sounded like a freight train that is attributed to the slide. Collbran is about 40 miles east of Grand Junction.

The area is very remote and no structures have been reported damaged so far. I-70 is approximately 26 miles north of the slide and has not been affected.

Rain fell in Mesa County most Sunday and probably contributed to the cause of the slide. Officials urged citizens not to go into the area. A road block has been established at the intersection of Highway 330 and Salt Creek Road, outside the town of Collbran for safety.

Contributing: The Associated Press