These are my stories as a volunteer member of the Sheriff's Search & Rescue team in Coconino County, Arizona. I'll share what it's like to go from a beginner with a lot to learn to an experienced and, hopefully, valuable member of the team, as well as the missions, trainings, and other activities along the way.
About Coconino County
About Coconino County
Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.
November 10, 2008
A First Snow's Mission
And now I'm in a warm SAR vehicle, while several of my teammates are hiking in the precipitation, alternating between flurries and whiteout conditions throughout the evening. Three other teammates have driven around to the other end of this five-mile section of the 800-mile Arizona trail, which stretches from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Utah state line. The two lost subjects, a man and woman, are stuck between Sandy's Canyon and Marshall Lake.
This is a basic unprepared hiker scenario. No maps. No lights (save for the flash of a camera, we're told). Improper clothing. But they do have a cellphone that ain't dead yet. So, when they got lost and it got dark, the couple called for help.
As a result of cellphone communication with a deputy, we pretty much know where the stranded hikers are located. In fact, they can see our spotlight from here at Incident Command and even heard the deputy yell when he walked a short way into the woods. So, as the crow flies, they aren't far from here, but there's a canyon between us and them and they can't safely move in the dark. They're also now wet and cold.
Fifteen of us are out tonight, so more than enough as long as things go smoothly and no one gets hurt (or overly hypothermic). That's why I'm toasty and snug in the vehicle along with two of my teammates, while four others are getting some exercise. The leader of the ground team just called in some coordinates on the radio, and I could hear him huffing and puffing.
Time passes, as my vehicle-mates and I chat about this and that. I keep one ear on radio communication and the other on the conversation in the truck. Oh good, they have voice contact. And, soon, the ground team reaches the subjects. They're going to warm the two up and give them additional clothing before hiking them out.
Turns out, they're closer to the other SAR vehicle near Marshall Lake, so that's where they're headed. The rest of us drive around to rendezvous there.
We wait for a while when we arrive and eventually the ground team arrives with the rescued hikers, a man and woman who appear to be in their fifties or so. And they look happy and grateful. I can't hear what they're saying, but I see their smiles, their single Camelbak (water pack) and one water bottle, the camera around the man's neck, their cotton sweatshirts. While I don't personally condone hiking with cellphones to the exclusion of essential gear, it's a good thing they were able to make that call tonight. Otherwise, severe hypothermia would most likely have caught up with them before anyone else would have.
Another happy ending.
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