- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

GOLDEN VALLEY, Ariz. (AP) - Relatives said Wednesday they were surprised that an Arizona couple found dead in the desert near Lake Mead had ventured into the harsh environment because one of them had recently undergone cancer treatment.

Sandy Ryan said she didn’t think her brother, John, was well enough to go out with his longtime companion, Nancy Engebretsen, after receiving chemotherapy and radiation more than two weeks ago.

“They had both been talking for a while about wanting to go fishing. But none of us imagined that John was anywhere close to actually doing that - that he was well enough to take off like that,” Ryan said. “We didn’t know what the plan was, where they went.”

The Mohave County Medical Examiner confirmed that the two bodies discovered in a van Sunday in Lake Mead National Recreation area were those of Ronald John Ryan, 66, and Engebretsen, 65. The minivan was stuck in desert sand on a road inside the park, according to the National Park Service.

The couple, who also live in Minnesota, was about 100 miles northwest of their Golden Valley home.

Autopsies will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Only two bottles of water were found, and there was no cellphone coverage in the area, authorities said.

The couple went missing July 27, according to family members.

Sandy Ryan said her brother and Engebretsen were together for more than seven years after each lost a spouse to cancer. Engebretsen was a devoted caretaker after John Ryan’s throat cancer returned, she said.

Losing them is devastating, but Ryan said she is taking comfort that they were together.

“They were doing what they loved to do,” Ryan said. “There’s some peace there in looking at it that way.”

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