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 17, 2011

A Train Derailment, A Training Day, and a Trail Wreck

It was just a typical 24 hours (actually, more for some folks) in Search & Rescue ... not that much of anything about SAR is typical. You never know what you're going to see or hear when that email/text message/phone call comes in.

On Friday evening, May 13th, my phone beeped, and when I retrieved it from my pocket, "train derailment" were the words that popped out at me. Reading the full text message, I learned it was a freight train that had derailed north of Williams, Arizona, with a possible serious HAZMAT situation. Search and Rescue was requested to shuttle HAZMAT techs to the site over very rough roads. (See the location of the derailment on Google Maps.)

Six or eight SAR volunteers were needed but 15 called in to help. We loaded some equipment, including the Polaris Ranger UTV, and headed to the site, upwind of the derailment in case there were any noxious fumes coming from the HAZMAT materials. (Thanks to our Coordinator for thinking of that!)

Just after we turned off the highway, we saw several RVs. People were camping in the area, presumably for the spring season turkey hunt. They got a rude awakening when railroad crews showed up with big, very bright lights, which I assumed would be transported to the derailment to illuminate the area. Those lights were all on, next to the RVs, when Search and Rescue headed out. I guess they were testing them before hauling them in?

As it turned out, the "nasty" stuff on the train -- a sodium hydroxide solution -- was intact, so crews were able to make their way in to the site of the 15-car derailment from the downwind side, which was passable for their vehicles. Apparently, it was corn syrup, concrete and beer cars that had overturned. I heard that at least one car had gone over a 120-foot cliff. Wonder how THAT happened.

So a few hours after the call-out, SAR members were headed home.

The next day, it was training from 8am to 5pm for me and the rest of the technical rescue team out at Volunteer Canyon, which was probably a few hundred feet deep at the end, where we were practicing tandem systems on either side of the canyon. (Wish I had photos for you, but my hands were pretty tied up most of the time. Here's a picture of the canyon, though, which looks like it was taken right where we were practicing.)

During one rotation, I was the "subject" and rappelled down to a ledge where I made myself comfortable (relatively speaking) and waited for a teammate to be lowered to pick me off.  Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed being suspended over a long way down ... except for the fact that I was hanging right under my rescuer. If I'd been able to take a picture from that position, you'd be looking at my teammate's rear end. :-) But the rather complex maneuver -- with main and belay lines attached to us from both rims -- was a success, and the two of us were safely transplanted back on top. It was a productive day for the team and good to be back on the ropes after months of alpine training through the winter.

But the day wasn't quite over for some tech team members. As soon as we'd refueled the vehicles and then unloaded equipment back at the SAR building, our Coordinator called, saying there had been a mountain bike accident on the Schultz Creek Trail. I was already late for another commitment, so I couldn't respond, but several others quickly reloaded gear and headed to the scene. Coconino County Search & Rescue assisted Summit Fire and Guardian with what FlagScanner described on Twitter as "a very technical rescue of an injured adult female ... at the Schultz Creek Trail head."


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