There's an Incredible Effort to Save a Stuck Toyota 4Runner Unfolding on Facebook

It took two days for a volunteer party to successfully rescue the driver. Now they've gone back for his truck.

4runner stuck desert
Facebook | George Sukhanov

Chalk it up to the spirit of the holidays—or simply the spirit of like-minded enthusiasts—but there's an amazing story unfolding across a series of off-road rescue Facebook groups right now as total strangers are banding together to save a Canadian man's trusty Toyota 4Runner after he became stuck in the deep, sucking mud of the wet playa in Nevada's Black Rock Desert last weekend.

George Sukhanov had been adventuring around Nevada on December 21 when he made the mistake of trying to trek across a formerly-dry lake bed (known as a playa around these parts) recently saturated with winter rain and snow. Anyone who's encountered this kind of mudscape before knows it's nigh-impassible—sticky, soupy, and with zero vegetation to use as winch points—but Sukhanov willingly admits he made a poor decision here that ended with his Toyota 4Runner sunk up to the axles miles from anyone or anything.

Covering 200 square miles, the Black Rock Desert playa is one of the largest and flattest areas on earth. One can stand in the middle and see absolutely nothing in all directions. Sure, the ground is solid as a rock in the epically hot summer. But in the winter, it's the world's largest mud bog.

Thankfully he still had cell service, so he contacted the local sheriff's office but told them he didn't want to be rescued with official assets yet, according to KOLO News. Instead, Sukhanov turned to Facebook to seek out the help of other local 4x4 enthusiasts on Facebook. Quick context here: there's an entire constellation of geo-specific off-road rescue Facebook groups, where members routinely band together to retrieve trucks stuck in off-the-beaten-path locations. They do it to help each other out, spare the taxpayer expense of a sanctioned rescue effort, and have some fun with the challenge while they're at it.

The drama can be tracked through two main Facebook posts—Sukhanov's original plea for help in the Nevada 4x4 Rescue group, and a thread in the 775 Offroad & Recovery Public Page. The comments on both are worth reading, as they show the hive mind start to form strategies for a potential group rescue.

After providing a clear and cogent summary of the situation, Sukhanov updated the post back on Sunday morning to say that a volunteer attempted to reach him but had gotten stuck and "did not seem keen" on continuing with the effort.

"Access to the spot I’m at is feasible from black rock springs side only (north end of playa). From what I can see, the entire playa south, east and west of my location looks the same as the spot I’m at - impassable," he wrote. "To me it seems like there are two ways to get me out. Either a vehicle on the north side with a lot of winch line -100’ or more, or a bunch of traction boards plus high lift jack. Digging here is problematic, so lifting the vehicle and putting boards under might work."

Joseph Pickett

For what it's worth, Sukhanov has been unfailingly pleasant, polite, and apologetic throughout this whole thing. Maybe that's why a second rescue effort was hatched in the 775 Offroad & Recovery group. Expedition leader Joseph Pickett posted that the team of four highly built rigs—two Jeep Wranglers, and older Jeep Wagoneer, and a mid-90's Dodge Ram—headed out on Sunday evening. It took over seven hours to reach Sukhanov, but despite their best efforts they couldn't get the 4Runner out of the mud. In fact, they almost lost one of their own Jeeps too.

"3:30[am] - it is pretty bad. May need a second team. One jeep is stuck but we can get him out. The Toyota is in bad shape. Need a daisy chain multiple rig with how sloppy this is."

At 5:30am, more than twelve hours after the crew first set out, they finally decided to abandon the 4Runner and get Sukhanov back to civilization—and it would be another three hours before they actually reached pavement again.

"George is in Reno." His car isn't." wrote Joseph Pickett on Facebook following the unsuccessful recovery. He added a warning: "Thieves, don't bother. Seriously. You'll get stuck and the icy water it's in is miserable."

Facebook

It's not too tough for the combined might of a thousand off-road enthusiasts, though. A second rescue effort, organized under the just-formed George's Playa Rescue Facebook group and backed by a growing number of online fundraisers, was able to reach the 4Runner and finally pull it free this morning after setting off late last night from the Reno-Tahoe airport. The three rigs had to drive on over 40 miles of maintained dirt road and 12 miles of wild, hazard-filled desert. They still need to get back to civilization, but so far it looks like a positive result for all involved.

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