UNT student will retrace her footsteps through desert on ‘20/20’

Amber VanHecke, a University of North Texas student who “did everything right” to survive being stranded near the Grand Canyon for longer than five days while on a spring break trip, is going back to the desert.

VanHecke will be featured on ABC’s “20/20” on Friday, where she will retrace her footsteps and recount the actions that kept her alive after running out of both food and water in the 119-hour ordeal that ended March 17 when a rescue helicopter finally found her. She hiked 11 miles to find a cellphone signal to make a 911 call at one point, only for the call to drop 49 seconds in, before the dispatcher could verify her exact location.

After running out of gas on her way to Havasu Falls Trailhead, VanHecke made signs, set signal fires and rationed the food and water she had as best she could. She will take ABC News correspondent Matt Gutman through her harrowing spring break misadventure, which she survived through sheer resourcefulness.

First responders will also take “20/20” on a minute-by-minute re-creation of their effort to find VanHecke after the failed 911 call, and VanHecke’s family will recount the panic of having no idea where she was.

Matthew Martinez; 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817


  • 9 p.m. Friday
  • WFAA/Channel 8
Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram