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Diary Relates Couple's Icy Death in Wilderness

May 10, 1991|From Associated Press

MARIPOSA, Calif. — An elderly couple trapped by snow in the High Sierra filled a makeshift diary with religious poetry, funeral instructions and an account of the days before they froze to death.

Nada Jean Chaney lovingly described the death of her 75-year-old husband, Kenneth, said Mariposa County Undersheriff Pelk Richards on Thursday.

"She said it was so peaceful that she hadn't realized that their father had passed away," Richards said. "She was kind of writing to her family."

The diary said the Chaneys had been stranded in their car for 18 days when he died.

"She was expecting to go next and gave funeral instructions," Richards said.

Writings by Mrs. Chaney, 68, also described the couple's ordeal after they got stuck in deep snow.

"It was just a day-by-day accounting of things that took place over that period of time that they were stuck up there," the undersheriff said.

The Chaneys apparently had driven into a remote part of the central Sierra 250 miles southeast of San Francisco on Feb. 28. Their car slid off a road and got stuck.

The first of a series of storms hit later that day, leaving up to 10 feet of snow in the area at the 6,750-foot elevation over the next few weeks.

No vehicles ventured into the area until the snow survey team arrived two months later. The bodies were discovered May 1 by a survey team sent into the Sierra back country to measure the snow depth in California's fifth straight drought year.

The couple had died from hypothermia caused by exposure, said Roy Broomfield, chief deputy coroner for Madera County.

The diary was kept on loose-leaf note paper, envelopes, "anything they could write notes on," Broomfield said.

"A lot of it was just personal stuff to their family," he added.

Richards said the husband "wrote several pieces of poetry, all of it very religious related."

One of their six adult children from Southern California reported that the Chaneys were deeply religious, Broomfield said.

"That's what helped them," he added.

Relatives also said the couple normally took their Bibles with them, but the Bibles were found at their home, indicating they intended to take only a short excursion.

The Chaneys had lived only a few weeks in Mariposa, a foothill community at the southern edge of California's famed gold rush country. They moved to the mountains after managing self-storage warehouses at Santa Clarita and Lancaster.

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