When Luke W. Barnett, 51, and his daughter Annalee J. Barnett, 20, decided to hike the 800-mile Arizona Trail to raise money for the Short Creek Dream Center in Colorado City, they hoped to inspire others to greater adventures as well. Then, halfway through the journey, Luke almost lost his life when a boulder nearly crushed him.
“For eight seconds, the boulder slid down the hill, grinding me into the rocks and dirt,” Luke tells AG News. “I was in excruciating pain and things were breaking on the way down. It seemed like forever.”
The father-daughter duo had traversed more than halfway through the strenuous hike in which they covered 20 miles a day to stay within their 40-day schedule. They documented their exploits daily on social media. Having passed the 500-mile mark and entered the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, they came to a wash which required them to descend a steep hillside using their hands to lower themselves.
Nothing appeared especially dangerous about the portion of trail — until a large boulder they passed began to move. Both Luke and Annalee were downhill from it. Luke yelled and pushed his daughter out of the way. The boulder broke loose and bulldozed him down the hill ahead of itself.
“I was headfirst going down, my backpack on my back, and the boulder riding my legs,” Luke recalls of the Oct. 31 mishap.
“Dear God, help me!” Luke cried out as the estimated 8,000 pounds of force shoved his femur up through his hip socket, decimated his groin muscles, snapped his left forearm, broke three of his ribs, and severely gashed his right hand.
He thought the boulder would eventually roll on him and kill him. Instead, it came to an unexpected stop on the steep hillside. It had brutalized his body, but not gone completely on top of him.
Concerned that the boulder might tumble again, Annalee ran over and dragged her dad to the side by his backpack straps. The backpack itself had been torn to ribbons. Together, father and daughter ascertained that Luke could wiggle his toes and fingers, meaning he hadn’t suffered paralysis — a small ray of good news. But his broken forearm swelled and his right hand gushed blood through a bone-deep cut on his middle finger. The pair was stranded hours from civilization.
“Our risk manager for the trip had made us get a satellite phone and helicopter insurance,” Luke recalls. “We said we didn’t need them, but we got both, and I’m so glad we did.”
Annalee ran up a hillside with the satellite phone to obtain a signal, not knowing if her father would be alive when she returned. Overwhelmed with emotion after reaching the outside world, she stopped, got down on her knees, and prayed.
“I put everything onto God and asked Him to help us, be with us, and protect us,” Annalee says. “That really calmed me down.”
With Annalee away, Luke’s sight turned black-and-white. He wondered if his life on earth had neared its end.
“I closed my eyes and began to pray, Lord, I don’t want to die here. There’s so much to be done,” he says. “But I had great peace, if this was my moment to go.”
Annalee came back, and color returned to Luke’svision as he lay in great pain waiting for the small emergency helicopter to arrive. Luke and Annalee talked and prayed, and she kept him shaded and hydrated.
“The longer the time went, the more confident I got,” Annalee says. “He seemed very alert.”
The helicopter appeared nearly two hours later, but could not land anywhere near, so a medic with a rope and a body board descended. With Luke aloft, Annalee stayed behind to wait for a second rescue helicopter to carry her home.
At Scottsdale Hospital and Trauma Center, Luke underwent surgeries for the next nine days and replayed the traumatic incident in his mind night after night.
“I recalled how I was feeling as I was riding down, and how the whole thing had happened,” he says. “It was sobering because I shouldn’t be alive.” He believes there is a spiritual component to the near-death experience.
“The enemy just hates what we’re doing up in Colorado City, that people are getting delivered, that young ladies are getting rescued from human sex trafficking,” Luke says. The hike has raised nearly $2 million for that cause. Dream City Church purchased the property near the Arizona-Utah boundary line earlier this year.
Amazingly, Annalee decided to complete the Arizona Trail with a new hiking partner and with her dad’s encouragement. Meanwhile, Luke received a titanium rod through his forearm, three long screws in his hip, and stitches and staples in several places. Just a month after the accident, he is not only walking, but preaching again on Sunday mornings at Dream City Church.
Luke joined Annalee for the final 200 yards of the hike in an emotional finish to their adventure.
The family is committed to fighting trafficking. Luke’s wife, Angel, attended the inaugural Assemblies of God Human Trafficking Summit last month in Springfield, Missouri.