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.

May 20, 2009

A Short Walk Turns Into A Long Night

Incident Commander (IC): So, when you parked the ATV and got off, what were you planning to do?

Subject: I was just going to check out a couple of tanks [man-made watering holes] in the area, for elk sign. I figured that one tank was only, like, 1000 yards away or something, so I just walked that direction. But I never saw it.

IC: And what did you do then?

Subject: I kept going, but I guess I got turned around. I thought I was walking back to the power line where I'd left my ATV, but I never found it again. I walked for hours. Then it got dark and cold, so I laid down and covered myself with pine needles.

IC: Did you ever see the helicopter?

Subject: Yeah, they flew right over, but I had no way to signal them.

IC: And what about the searchers on the ground? Did you hear them calling or any whistles during the night?

Subject: No, not till right before they found me. Then I started yelling back. I did hear a siren once, earlier, but it was a long way off.

IC: So, what would you tell someone else who was in this sort of situation?

Subject: [emphatically] I'd tell 'em never, ever walk away without your pack. Take a light, food and water, a map and compass, and all that. Even if you're just going for a short walk, be prepared! I've been doin' this outdoor stuff and huntin' for a long time, so this can happen to anybody.

I leaned over the seatback, watching through the open rear hatch of the IC's vehicle as this conversation was going on. I'd been waiting back at command for teammates to return with the subject, who'd been located about an hour earlier around 2:30am. The IC asked those of us in the SUV, "You guys have anything to add?"

I looked at the subject, illuminated by the interior lights of the vehicle, as he stood out back with our commander. The man had been driven to base by one of our teammates in a SAR vehicle, while the others hiked back to retrieve their ATV's and the subject's quad as well. "No," I answered. "We're just really glad you're okay."

With his arms wrapped around himself, the man nodded and, in a shaky voice, said, "Thank you all. Thank you very much."

Poor guy. It'd been a long, uncomfortable and probably scary night for him. He'd heard about rabid animals in the area, he'd said, and he worried about the coyotes. Just because you've been camping, hiking and hunting for a long time doesn't mean you're immune to mistakes or being afraid. I could tell he was feeling embarrassed.

It had been a long night for us searchers too. We'd been called out shortly before sundown and, after loading trailers and equipment, we responded to the staging area near Kinnikinnick Lake. While we were en route and as the light was fading, the man's ATV was spotted by air rescue, along a powerline.

When the quad was reached by a deputy on the ground, he found that it was dry beneath the vehicle and wet all around. It had rained since the ATV had been parked, and no foot tracks were picked up near the quad to determine direction of travel from that point. Trackers from our team tried cutting for sign in the immediate area, but didn't find any prints.

By then in the dark, we continued to search in pairs for six, seven hours before some foot tracks were finally picked up along a forest service road. Maybe twenty minutes later, I heard a teammate report through the static that he thought they "had our subject." Radio communications and cell phone contact were sketchy at best, so the rest of us had to wait for several long minutes to find out that they meant a living subject. Due to some medical history, we'd been worried that a health issue may have been the reason the man hadn't returned to his ATV or the camp he was sharing with his brother, the reporting party, since 10am the previous morning.

At 7:30 the following morning--yesterday, Tuesday, May 19th--I got home, just after my husband had gone to work. After two nights of SAR in a row, I was rather wiped out, but I'd have to wait till that evening to get some sleep. I had things to do for my mom and some practice back at the SAR building already arranged for later yesterday afternoon with two other teammates for a little Rock Rescue Academy homework.

Needless to say, when I did finally commune with my pillow at 9:30 last night, I slept really well until the sun through the window woke me up this morning.

1 comment:

Sigboy said...

Excellent story, with a moral! Thank you for posting your stories.