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 27, 2010
Just Your Average Christmas Eve (in SAR)
I really shouldn't give the details about this particular arm--whose it was, why it was out there--but, basically, this was the result of a homicide earlier this year. And by the time authorities knew where exactly to look for the body, it had been scattered by coyotes. So that's why the arm was still missing.
And that's why I got a call from our K-9 team leader, asking if I'd come along as a backer for one of the handlers. Each dog/handler/backer team would have an 11-acre segment to search, making tight grids back and forth, since the dogs would be looking for something potentially as small as a finger bone.
When the three handlers, three backers and six dogs rendezvoused at the SAR building on the morning of Christmas Eve, I just had to ask. "So, if they (meaning law enforcement) got the rest of the body, then ... well ... why do they NEED the arm?"
And they didn't, really, I was told. This was more of a training for the dogs, handlers and backers. Of course, if we found what we were searching for--the arm or some bones thereof--we'd mark it, call it in to the detective, and he'd come collect the remains. But as far as the case against the person who (I guess I'm supposed to insert the word "allegedly" here) committed the crime, these bones would not be necessary evidence. I'd think a find would, however, mean something to family of the deceased.
So we did our best, making our grids as tight as possible given the obstacles--the pinion/juniper, rocks, cactus, and the MUD. And, wow, was it muddy. I felt--and looked--like I had ten pounds of clay mud caked on the bottom of my boots. It was up the front and back of my pants. I was slipping and stumbling like I was drunk, which was really draining. I think it even wore on the dogs after a while. But they and we kept working until we'd completed our areas.
Unfortunately, we didn't have a find, but the dogs alerted on the spot where the body had been found, though it had been a while since it had been removed. So we knew they were working and doing what they'd been trained to do.
Wow... not the best way to spend Christmas eve. I hope your new years eve is less eventful.
As the mother of a currently missing hiker, I have huge appreciation for your work. Here is a link to the website we made about my son. It is possible he is by now hiking in the Grand Canyon area, if he went down the CDT and then across the Grand enchantment and up the Arizona trail. Some of his hiking buddies think he may be trying to do part of all of the Great Western Loop. I just know I miss him. His best friend Sean is driving in your area now, talking with rangers, with outfitters and resuppliers, doing sar by car at this point.
If your sar has a forum or website, maybe you can post this link there and ask folks to keep an eye out.
That was a really intense story. I really feel for the families of these people.
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