It was almost midnight and snowing heavily when the rescuers reached Alan Lee Phillips at the top of a high pass in the Rocky Mountains.
His pickup truck was stuck in a snowdrift, the temperature had dropped to nearly -30C and although he had managed to flash SOS with his headlights it was only by chance that a local sheriff happened to be peering out of the window on a flight to California as it passed overhead and spotted the desperate signal thousands of feet below.
The extraordinary rescue at Guanella Pass made national headlines in January 1982. Phillips, 30, was slightly intoxicated and had a large bruise on his face but otherwise fine. Dave Montoya, the local fire chief who saved him, wondered: “How in the heck did this guy get so lucky, for all the stuff to fall into place?”
Almost 40 years later, the survival tale has now taken a very dark twist: police in Colorado say that hours before his rescue the mechanic had shot and killed two young women who were hitchhiking nearby and whose murders had never been solved.
Annette Schnee, 22, and Barbara Oberholtzer, 29, both went missing from Breckenridge, Colorado, on January 6, 1982. Schnee was last seen at about 4.45 pm. Her body was found six months later face down in a stream, fully clothed but disheveled. She had been shot in the back.
Oberholtzer vanished after leaving work colleagues just before 8 pm. Her family found her body the next day on a snow embankment about 20ft from the road below another mountain pass, about ten miles from Breckenridge and 50 miles from Guanella Pass. She had been shot in the chest.
Charlie McCormick, a retired Denver murder detective, spent years investigating Schnee’s death, charging her family $1 a year for his services. He joined the district attorney’s task force as the investigation spread across the west of the US