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.

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Where is Mark?

That's the question many people have been asking for the past 10 days. It's the question that's kept me up at night even when I'm exhausted from another day of searching. And I know everyone involved in the effort feels the same. We just want to find Mark, to give this story an ending.

I've started this entry over several times. While every mission I've been involved with—and there have been about 40 or so in my 16 months on the team—has been unique, this one was especially different for me. Not only did the initial facts seem to point to a fairly rapid resolution that didn't happen, but ground-pounders (rather, snow-pounders in this case) didn't find a single clue. At least, nothing that panned out. No matter how closely we looked, we didn't come up with a thing. And that feels... well, really bad.

At the same time, I was seeing Mark's family and friends, who were also searching along with SAR teams from around the state of Arizona, Forest Service personnel, K-9 teams, Civil Air Patrol, and the Department of Public Safety. But it wasn't the lack of a uniform that told me someone was a relative or friend of the missing. That was clear in their faces, even if they gave us a smile.

search and rescue winter missionOver the past 10 days, five of which I was in the field in Forest Lakes, I wanted so much to hear that familiar tone of voice that comes over the radio when a searcher finds something. You can hear it when a SAR member calls Incident Command, and the rest of us stop in our tracks to listen to what will come next. That didn't happen this time.

But no ending (yet) doesn't mean there's an end to hope. If you'd read as many search and rescue stories as I have in the past year and a half, you know that just about anything can happen. So I'll be keeping Mark Irby and his family in my thoughts and waiting for the day we hear he's been found.