The Nerve Gas Theory

Sagebrush Mountain is rather remote, even by the standards of the western United States. As a result, during the initial search operations, helicopters and personnel from the Utah Test and Training Range and the Dugway Proving Ground to the south assisted the Idaho State Police and local law enforcement. This, naturally, has led some to suspect that this assistance was a smokescreen to cover up US Army involvement in the incident.

Utah Test and Training Range and the Dugway Proving Ground are unique among weapons testing facilities in the USA in that they test nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, ostensibly for defensive purposes. Weapons of mass destruction have escaped the bounds of the range and proving grounds before, as in 1968 when over 6,000 sheep in Skull Valley, Utah, were inadvertently exposed to nerve gas. Nerve gasses and other toxic organophosphates could also have been responsible for the thick “sticky” fog reported by the hikers.

In this version of events, Army engineers from Dugway were either conducting a test elsewhere that inadvertently exposed the Mercer party to nerve agents, or were testing on Sagebrush Mountain itself in violation of DOD policy. The leading candidate in this case is the same agent that killed the sheep at Skull Valley, VX nerve gas. VX is an oily, relatively non-volatile, liquid in its pure state, and it persists in environments once dispersed.

Crucially, the symptoms experienced by both the deceased hikers and Cassidy Daniels are textbook cases of nerve gas exposure, and illicit tests either before or during the hike might have explained the antenna structure Daniels described. In this version of events, Carrie Mercer was taken by government agents, who also hurriedly disassembled the site under the cover of participating in the search and rescue operation. FOIA requests have also shown that Dugway was conducting a series of tests up to the week of the hikers’ demise, though the exact nature of those tests remains classified.

However, Dugway and the UTTR are located in Utah on the opposite side of the Great Salt Lake from Salt Lake City. This is hours away even by plane from Sagebrush Mountain, and the prevailing winds on the week in question were from the north. Furthermore, several amateur expeditions to the area have conducted tests for VX or other organophosphates and have found nothing. While this would not rule out an illicit test of a new nerve agent that decayed rapidly in the environment, no such agent is known to exist, and no test of any kind was known to have been conducted within 500 miles of the site.

There is also no reason why the government would have taken Carrie Mercer and not Cassidy Daniels as part of a cover-up. And if Daniels really had walked through a cloud of VX gas and survived–unlikely in and of itself–she would have exposed Smithson and his rafting party as well. Items from the Smithson expedition have been repeatedly tested for organophosphates and no such substances have ever been recorded.

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