Stranded couple wrote poems, notes before they died Calif. couple got stuck in snowstorm in Feb., but bodies weren't found until May. 1.

May 10, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

A 68-year-old woman, trapped with her husband in a snowbound automobile in California's Sierra Nevada mountains for more than two weeks, wrote a note to her children shortly before she died:

"Your father passed away," wrote Nada Jean Chaney, who had recently moved to the mountains from Santa Clarita, Calif. "It was very peaceful. His last words were, 'Thank the Lord.' "

The bodies of the woman and her 75-year-old husband, Kenneth, who became stranded in a March snowstorm when they took a wrong turn while driving home from Fresno, Calif., were found nine days ago by a U.S. Forest Service crew.

Authorities investigating the high-mountain tragedy uncovered a detailed journal written on scraps of paper by the Chaneys during their weeks of isolation, apparently as they slowly starved and froze. It contains poems, reflections, funeral instructions and an account of the passing days, during which a series of snowstorms pounded the 6,700-foot-high mountain road where they were stuck, piling up drifts as much as 10 feet deep.

Most of all, according to Jayne Peterson, a daughter who lives in Palmdale, Calif., the writings show not only a strong religious faith but a deep bond between the husband and wife that allowed them to face the fact that they might not survive.

"They didn't have a fear of death," said Peterson.

Madera County sheriff's officials said the couple was reported missing Feb. 27, the day they set out for home after a business trip to Fresno.

"They took a way they had never been before," Peterson said.

Peterson said there was no indication of growing desperation in the writing by either the husband or wife. In fact, they appeared to draw some strength from their plight. According to Peterson, they used their tragedy as a means to become closer to each other.

Peterson said there were signs they tried to turn the car around on the two-lane, paved Forest Service road, but failed. As the snow began falling heavily, they bundled up in a blanket and apparently tried to wait out the foul weather.

Kenneth Judd, a U.S. Forest Service fire captain who discovered the bodies May 1, said there were plastic food containers in the car. He also said there were indications that they had gotten out of the car more than once, but nothing to show they tried to hike out. The nearest town was 54 miles away.

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