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.

August 12, 2011

Remember the Telephone Game?

Sometimes Search and Rescue is a little like that game I played at camp when I was a kid. Someone would start out with a couple of sentences and whisper them into the ear of the next kid in line. That kid would then whisper to the next and so on, until the message reached the last person and he or she announced the message. Then it was compared to the original message, and, nearly every time, it was at least a little -- if not very -- different.

I don't know the chain of communication in this latest SAR case, but by the time I saw the Facebook post by a local newsperson who listens to and reports on scanner traffic, it was "MAJOR MEDICAL: 3 APS employees have fallen from a ledge while working on a power box on Mt. Elden." I began changing into my mission clothes immediately.

Soon afterward, SAR was called, and I headed out. This was going to be a long, difficult mission, I thought, evacuating three injured patients off that rugged mountain. Apparently, they were not on or near a trail.

Soon, nine of our volunteers rendezvoused with Flagstaff Fire Department personnel at the base of Mt. Elden along the gas pipeline trail. Two of our members, who had responded directly to the mountain while the rest of us loaded Stokes litters and other technical rescue equipment, climbed up to the power company workers, who were visible from below. There were actually seven of them up there.

When the rest of the responding SAR members arrived on scene, we and Flag Fire were informed that everyone on the mountain was mobile and could be walked down. What had happened to the injuries I'd read about online? A leg injury, a foot injury, and one complaining of "severe chest and stomach pains"?

Apparently, there was one guy with a bad knee that was bothering him, but no leg injury. There was no evidence of a foot injury that I was aware of, and I was told that the chest and stomach pains had been cramps from dehydration, relieved by the water and Gatorade brought up to them by the first responders on scene.

Those of us preparing to climb up were asked to bring mountain rope and other gear needed to rig some safety handlines as a precaution for the bouldering left to be done to reach the bottom. Some of the APS workers were tired and, though they'd been rehydrated, might be at greater risk of tripping and falling on shaky legs. We also brought extra helmets and headlamps in case it got dark before everyone was down.

In the end, everything went smoothly and all were in good spirits and good shape. No one requested or wanted medical attention.

From what I heard, the APS workers had, earlier that morning, left a couple of their vehicles at the base of the mountain, then driven to the summit. They were, as one man put it, on a "reconaissance mission" to scope out an electrical line that was going to be built (or rebuilt maybe). "It wasn't one of the smartest things we've ever done," he said.

I'm really not sure what exactly happened up there, but they didn't seem prepared--physically or otherwise--for a day on the mountain. I believe several of the workers had made it down or most of the way down to their vehicles at the bottom but had then gone back up to assist the other three. If there had been any kind of fall, I didn't hear anyone mention it. Hm ... who knows? Just glad it all worked out well, with daylight to spare.

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