3 men missing after huge mudslide near Collbran on Grand Mesa identified by authorities

COLLBRAN, Colo. - There is still no sign of three men who disappeared after a massive mudslide hit near the Western Slope town of Collbran, on the Grand Mesa, following heavy rain.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office identified the men as local residents Clancy Nichols, 51, Danny Nichols, 24, and Wes Hawkins, 46.

The three men went to the area to check on their irrigation water that had been disrupted. From there, they went to check on a smaller slide that had occurred earlier, when the massive slide hit on Sunday, around 6 p.m., according to the Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey said Clancy Nichols, who is a county road and bridge employee, went there with his son, Danny. 

Hilkey said the mudslide is estimated to be about 2-to-3 miles long, at least a half-mile wide, and about 250 feet deep, in many places.

Aerial view of the mudslide:

The slide occurred 11 miles southeast of the small town of Collbran, in the area of Salt Creek Road and Vega Reservoir on the Grand Mesa.

"This slide is unbelievably big," said Lt. Phil Stratton, with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.

"It’s so massive," said photographer Pablo Spencer. "The natural landscape is green -- this is a scar on the mountain."

Heather Benjamin with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office said the person that called in the mudslide to a dispatcher described the noise as sounding like a freight train.

"We understand they went together to check on their irrigation water. They drove a truck to get closer and then had a four-wheeler to get in from there. We haven't been able to locate the truck or the four-wheeler or any sign of them," said Benjamin.

"We've even had victims' advocates come in, but it seems like they're very tight-knit here and in Collbran and we believe they're providing support to each other," said Benjamin.

"I gathered up the neighborhood children to make sure they were all safe," said Collbran resident Debra Putnam. "People know who is missing. It spread like wildfire around here."

Benjamin told 7NEWS that the top two-thirds of the slide is very unstable. 

The sheriff said he flew over the slide Monday looking for signs of the missing men. He said an infrared camera did not find any heat sources.

"[We are] hoping they are stranded somewhere and they avoided it," Hilkey said.

Mesa County officials said the slide -- made up of timber, rocks, snow, dirt and mud -- moved an additional 20 feet overnight.

About 40-50 searchers are concentrating on the more stable bottom half of the slide and are going into the slide from the side edges -- where the mud is 20 to 30 feet deep -- to locate the missing men.

They searched until nightfall, but said they would be back out Tuesday morning.

Hilkey says everyone is praying for a miracle but said no signs of the men or their truck have been found. The Sheriff's Office said it does not believe the men had cell phones with them.

According to Hillkey, the slide pushed an enormous amount of land forward. Part of the slide has formed an area where water is collecting.

Residents in the area are gathering at churches and shops to wait for word on the missing men.

"How in the devil could this happen?" said Collbran resident Lloyd Power.

He said residents were praying for the missing. "That's all we can do," Power said.

"They're in my prayers. I hope they're alright," said resident Guadalupe Verde.

-- Colorado slide larger than Washington state slide --

Hilkey said he talked to officials in Washington state where 43 people died in a mudslide in March. Hilkey said that office gave him very valuable information about where to search and what can be done.

Whereas the Washington mudslide was measured in feet, the Collbran mudslide is being measured in miles, he said.

As for the cleanup, Hilkey said, "you're looking at the new terrain for that area."

-- Cause of the slide --

The area had seen several days of heavy rain.

"We believe the runoff of water from the Grand Mesa is what triggered the slide," Hilkey said. "No doubt it’s tied to the rain.

The slide is so large, authorities expect to be there for days.

"We'll be there for as long as it takes," said Kate Porras, spokeswoman for the Grand Junction Police Department.  "It is a very large slide, so we don't anticipate this being something that's going to get done in a day or two. It might take a little bit of time."

An estimated 40-50 emergency and search and rescue personnel are on scene trying to help. They came from the Plateau Valley Fire Department, the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, Mesa County Search and Rescue Control, Inc., and the Collbran Marshal.

-- Natural gas production facility shut down --

The West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association said one active natural gas production facility was affected by the mudslide.

"The threatened well pad hosts three active natural gas wells located along Salt Creek Road east of the Town of Collbran," officials said.

While officials said there were no signs of spills or releases, the natural gas wells were shut down manually and connective pipelines were depressurized and drained. 

More video of the mudslide site:

Another view above the slide:

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