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I quickly looked through the extra clothing in my SAR pack, now adjusted for warmer weather, and decided I had just enough (thermals, fleece, and Gortex) for the freezing temps we'd face up there. But I was still on edge about the winds, which would be much stronger on the ridge. Ultimately, I decided to go up with my teammates.
This was to be a body recovery, unfortunately. Our team knew that before we'd left the SAR building, where a group of us had been in the midst of a Saturday technical rescue training. Others were doing PSAR (Preventative Search& Rescue) in a popular ATV area which always sees a lot of activity and often a number of accidents over the Memorial Day weekend. A couple of those SAR volunteers also responded to this mission on the mountain.
We'd been informed that a couple of hikers had come upon an unresponsive man a short distance from the 12,633-foot summit of Mt. Humphreys (I couldn't imagine why people would choose to go up that mountain on a day like this, sunny or not) and immediately began CPR. One of the hikers continued to work on the victim while another called 911, given that there's cell phone coverage high on the mountain. Sadly, after about half an hour of effort, CPR was unsuccessful. No one knew, at that point, how long the then-unidentified man had been down when the hikers found him.
What was obvious, however, when our team, including our Coordinator who hiked up with us, arrived at the victim's location was that he was a runner. And that's what he'd obviously been doing -- an early trail run to the summit -- when he'd died among the rocks and rime ice. None of us recognized this man, who we eventually found out was from Goodyear, AZ. He was 53 years old (so we also later learned) and appeared to be exceptionally fit.
In fact, he'd recently run a marathon and was, according to his family, doing high-altitude training here in Flagstaff for an upcoming event. So said the news article I read a few days later. I'd been scanning the paper each day for any information.
At the time of the mission, though, I looked at this man for long moments every now and then, thinking, Who are you? And who might be waiting for you at home?
When this man, lying on the rocks, had woken up that morning, I was thinking, it had probably been a day like most any other day. Or so he'd thought. I'll bet he had been feeling fine. Maybe better than fine. I didn't know a thing about him at the time, but I was sad for him and for his family and friends, whoever they might be.
But back to work....
As our team braced itself against the uncomfortable conditions on the ridge, discussing options for bringing the man's body down the mountain, we all noticed a rather sudden drop in the wind. So, in an attempt to take advantage of the improved conditions -- however long they may last -- our Coordinator made a call to DPS and, within a short time, we heard the helicopter approaching. One of the best pilots there is, anywhere, hovered, the helicopter visibly shifting and swaying, buffeted by the gusts that were still plenty strong, as he and his medic assessed the situation and those of us on the ridge hoped aloud that this alternative would work.
And it could, the pilot said over the radio. The winds were too strong for a short haul, but he would go land down at Snowbowl, remove a door, prepare the cargo net, and burn off some fuel, then return to hover over our location. Still, nothing was certain until that actually happened.We took shelter on the lee side of some boulders as we waited for the helicopter to return. If the cargo net maneuver didn't work, then it was back to plan A or B or ... well, something much more difficult.
In less than an hour, the man who'd died on Humphreys earlier that day was air-lifted from the mountain, as those of us who'd gone up to help began making our way down the long way.
See: Runner Dies at Humphreys Summit in the Arizona Daily Sun
Our K9 team was also busy over the weekend, after hikers found a human skull at a small campsite in Forest Lakes. Handlers Cindy and Dianne and their dogs were called to search the area and eventually located 26 more bones and other evidence, but there was no vehicle around and no ID was found.
Sheriff's office investigators are asking for the public's help to identify the man based on items located. Investigators believe the man had a 44-inch waist and wore double-extra-large size shirts. A Bass Pro Shop hat and a tan hat with a red diver's symbol on it were also found, as well as a Harley Davidson bandana, red Peterbilt suspenders, fishing waders and a green 5-gallon water jug. The man was possibly last wearing a tan T-shirt and blue jeans.
See: Weekend No Holiday for County Sheriff's Office