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.
May 20, 2011
Overdue Hikers Found in Blue Ridge Area
This would be a search for two overdue hikers in the Blue Ridge area, who'd last been seen leaving their campsite at 1pm, unprepared for the cold, wet conditions. Apparently, they weren't carrying any gear, food or water, other than possibly a lighter.
While ten of us readied our gear to depart the SAR building, a second mission was brewing in the same general area, but that one was resolved before we'd finished briefing. Due to icy road conditions and numerous accidents in the area, we took the lower elevation route to our destination, towing ATVs and the Polaris Ranger. In the meantime, a team member who lives in Blue Ridge went directly to the subjects' campsite and met up with deputies and Forest Service personnel to begin searching. The weather conditions and lack of preparedness on the part of the missing hikers lent a sense of urgency to the mission. Hypothermia was a big concern, and they'd already been missing for eight hours.
When the rest of us reached the point last seen, which became our staging area, assignments were given and, two-by-two, we headed out to search. One of the teams included a K9 handler, her four search dogs, and a backer to do the navigation, radio communication, and assist with searching while the handler worked her dogs. Another team of two took the UTV, and the rest of us went out on foot. My field partner and I were one of the teams carrying night vision goggles, and everyone had warm-up gear to help the subjects regardless of who would find them.
While no DPS helicopter was available -- the Phoenix crew couldn't fly due to weather concerns, and there was no crew available from Flagstaff or Kingman -- a Guardian medical helicopter came to assist with the search. They arrived on scene just as we were deploying into the field.
Not long after, my partner and I heard through the static on the radio that someone was hearing yelling. As it turned out, it was one of the searchers driving Forest Service roads, doing containment. He and another person had been slowly driving a perimeter around the area, going in opposite directions and stopping often to make noise and then listen. The two of them had just passed one another on the road when one of them heard the voices.
Soon, two very cold, hungry and thirsty hikers were inside the vehicle, warming up. A landing zone was located for the helicopter, and the subjects were driven to that location, where they were checked by the Guardian medic as a ground ambulance continued to their location to transport the two to Payson.
It was about 3am when the lost hikers had been located, so they'd been out there for about 14 hours, during which time the rain and snow had resumed for a while. They'd apparently continued moving till around midnight, covering a pretty good distance and certainly more than they'd planned. Finally, they'd laid down between two logs, a short distance from the Forest Service road and not all that far from a highway, for what turned out to be a few more very uncomfortable, freezing cold hours.
At 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, I walked back into my house and once again changed into those cozy PJs and down booties as the wintry wet weather continued.
See: Lost Hikers Rescued from Cold Conditions from the Arizona Daily Sun
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