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.
December 10, 2009
First, about that stranded family with the small kids. I heard from a couple of teammates that they were located at around 4am on Tuesday morning in good condition. Eight members of our team had driven 5 hours in extremely poor conditions and were close to the search area when the family was found by another agency with a snowcat. So our team turned around, stopped for breakfast, and made it back to Flagstaff at 11am. What a night!
On Tuesday, when I finished digging out my mom after digging out myself, I fished my cell phone out of my pocket three layers down and saw that I had a message. It was a SAR call. I contacted our coordinator to see if they'd left yet, and he said to come on down.
Seven hours later, we were back at the SAR building after rescuing two stranded elk hunters who were stuck several snow-covered miles down a Forest Service road. Their vehicles and those belonging to dozens of other hunters may very well have to wait till spring to be back on pavement again.
But the rescues weren't over on Tuesday night. In fact, they're still ongoing today, Thursday, and may very well continue on into the weekend, with SAR crews, Forest Service and DPS personnel, and others using snowcats, snowmobiles, vehicles with Mattrax, and helicopters to carry out the rescues.
What I'm wondering is, aside from all of those who've been able to call for help with their cell phones, how many others are stuck in forests around the county who've not been able to contact anyone? I know helicopters have been launched to search from above, and snowmobile and snowcat crews are searching as they make runs to extract known subjects. I hope folks have left detailed itineraries with family or friends at home, in case they aren't accounted for and we need to go looking for them.
Here's an article from the Arizona Daily Sun, detailing some of the rescues. They mention the number 30, but I was told there are many more than that....
Stranded Hunters Holding Out
And here's a short one from Fox News:
Desperate Search Intensifies for Missing Hunters Stranded in Arizona After Storm
Glad everything worked out, for those people. I can't imagine what they were thinking, heading out with a big storm bearing down on the area - crazy!
I don't really know, myself, what anyone who got stranded out there was thinking, but I heard and read comments such as "The weather reports of bad storms have been wrong a lot before, so we figured this one would be wrong, too." Or, "I heard it was only supposed to be a few inches of snow." (Maybe some forecasts were different, but I had been hearing two feet or more for the better part of a week before the storm.) And I believe some folks didn't check the forecast at all. Maybe some didn't care--only that they drew the coveted tag and that was the only chance they had to do the hunt. Maybe some figured they could get out regardless of how much snow we got.
I suspect there are a number of different reasons why this happened, depending on the individual or group. I just hope there's some way to avoid this in the future, should a major winter storm coincide with a major hunt.
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