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.
October 19, 2011
Back in 30 Minutes Turns Into Back in 18 Hours
This was one of those cases in which the missing person wasn't necessarily lost and might not want to be found. But we couldn't be sure of that, of course, and there was always the possibility, even if that were the case, she may have gotten injured or otherwise into trouble out there. So the search began, first with the K9 team sweeping the area and other searchers driving Forest Service roads and two-tracks. After the dogs had a chance to search the perimeter of the "point last seen" without others on foot contaminating the area, two of us set out on the Arizona Trail.
My search partner and I hiked more than 8 miles that night, tracking, calling the subject's name, scanning the moonlit surroundings with our headlamps. But all we heard in response to our calls were the elk bugling (which sometimes sounded like talking, sometimes crying and sometimes all sorts of other things) and all we saw in the beams of our headlamps were the glowing eyes of critters and the white stripes on four skunk tails, two of which went up in alarm. We're even quite sure that one set of moving eyes was a mountain lion. After a while, moonlit stumps began to look like human forms.
There wasn't much traffic over the radio that night other than an occasional status (or welfare) check by incident command with a "Code 4" (or "we're okay") response and a current location from the field team being called. Other than the vocal elk and the infrequent, distant sound of a vehicle passing on Lake Mary Rd., it was a quiet night.
Tired from more than eight miles of walking on rocky trail and even rockier Forest Service Roads, my partner and I walked back into base at about 1:30a.m., where we found the K9 team and other searchers. Negative contact all around. We were dismissed from duty, and home we went, expecting another call-out for fresh searchers to come by 4am.
But that call never came. We later learned that the missing woman had shown up back at her boyfriend's house at 3:30am.
Oh well. It was pretty cool being out there at night ... even IF we were being stalked by a mountain lion. I doubt I'd ever wake up, comfortable in my bed in the middle of the night, and say, "Hey, I think I'll go for a moonlight hike on Anderson Mesa." So this search for someone who apparently wasn't in distress at least got me some exercise and a neat outdoor experience. Just glad it didn't get me sprayed by a skunk.
And in other Coconino County SAR news....
The team has been busy with other recent missions, including a body recovery at Midgley Bridge in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona. In this case, the victim was a 30-year-old California woman whose body was discovered by two hikers. I believe this is the fourth recovery at Midgley Bridge this year.
The team also spent a couple of days out near Sheba Crater, searching for a man missing for more than a month. Justin Brian Hall, 40, was last seen on Sept. 7th at a home on Leupp Road near milepost 442, just west of the Navajo Reservation. He was housesitting for a friend at the time, and his vehicles and belongings were found at that home. Hall is said to be an experienced outdoorsman, an avid hiker and a rock-climbing enthusiast.
While this search was underway, other members of the team participated in an evidence search near Seligman.
Search & Rescue volunteers also assisted with parking and traffic control at the funeral of Flagstaff Police Chief Brent Cooper who died unexpectedly on Sunday morning, October 9th, while jogging with his loyal dog, Winston, on Purple Sage Rd. near Fort Tuthill. Winston remained with the Chief until he was found that afternoon. Chief Cooper served with the department for 33-years.
And, most recently, five members of the technical rescue team assisted a stranded hiker above "the Waterfall" on Mt. Elden.
Very cool - what makes you so sure it was a mountain lion?
Size, way of moving, placement of eyes, the fact that they're out there in that area. It was not a coyote.
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