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.
November 22, 2011
A Passing Motorist Brings A Search to a Close
Hypothermia was a possibility, though. It had rained some in the past couple of days, and the subject apparently wasn't well prepared for the cold, wet weather. Injury was, of course, another possible scenario as was a potential miscommunication with the family member who'd gone back to get him on Saturday. Based on information we were given in our briefing prior to starting the search, we had reason to believe this may have been the case--that he had decided to stay out there longer but failed to contact his ride about his change of plans. Given the weather, though, and the fact that he wasn't properly equipped, our SAR Coordinator decided to call out the team to look for him sooner than later.
The subject had also made prior statements about taking his own life, so that too was on our minds.
We had been divided into teams of two, in this case one experienced member with one new member as the split was pretty much down the middle. It was good to see so many new SAR teammates from the latest academy come out for the search.
We were all in or on vehicles--SUVs, trucks, quads and the UTV--slowly driving unpaved roads and two-tracks, looking for the missing man's campsite and any other clues that might be associated with him, not to mention the man himself. We'd been told he preferred to stick to walking roads as opposed to traveling cross-country, so that's what we were starting with. As always, we were scanning the landscape and looking for any sign of tracks or clues, hoping to get a direction of travel. The team did find a number of things--the campsite, prints, a jacket--which turned out to be related to our subject.
But the search lasted only a couple of hours from the time we reached the area and deployed. A 9-1-1 call from a motorist on westbound I-40 about 21 miles east of Flagstaff, several miles from where we'd begun our search at the man's last known location, reported seeing what she thought was a body hanging from a billboard. It was difficult to see from the highway, so I'm thinking the person who spotted the lower portion of the man's body behind the billboard was an observant passenger.
Soon, Sheriff's deputies and SAR personnel confirmed the body as that of 39-year-old Stephen Dale Sterling, bringing our search to an end. (See the story in the Arizona Daily Sun.)
Deb, What a great blog! I've been working on a TV show with a man named Joe Nick, and have become fascinated and inspired by the people who do search and rescue. Keep up the good work!
(Here is the info about the show -- For over 25 years Joe (a real person) was a top K-9 cop with the New Jersey State police, using dogs to help find missing people and fugitives. (He had over 250 cases, and found all but one -- a case that haunts him every day of his life.) Now that he's retired, he's still doing it.
Joe’s simple, direct, yet incredible passion for finding missing people is incredible.
JOE THE BLOODHOUND airs Wednesday, December 7 at 10 PM EST on the Bio Channel.
Thanks for printing, Deb.
For those interested, the preview of the show can be found here:
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