Richard Wyatt and his three sons were rescued Monday morning after being trapped in the snowstorm that swept across the Rim country late last week.
Alerted by Wyatt's worried mother when the boys did not return home on Friday as expected, the Coconino County Sheriff's Department formed a joint search effort. Involved were the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Coconino National Forest and Coconino County Search and Rescue.
Al Schirman, a Forest Service compliance officer for the Blue Ridge Ranger District on the Coconino, was the first to find Wyatt and his sons, James, 13, Richard, 11, and Jack, 9, at their campsite near Knoll Lake.
The four pitched their camp on Tuesday, March 30, and spent the first day riding motorcycles, Schirman said. But the campers were stranded when the sudden storm buried them in about four feet of snow. Wyatt and his sons stayed together and kept dry.
"They did everything right," Schirman said.
Wyatt told Schirman that he tried to set a tennis shoe on fire to alert passing search helicopters, but the smoke dissipated before pilots saw it.
The only thing Schirman said could have helped them more was bright colored flags, flares or smoke bombs to help searchers find them.
When aircraft could not locate the missing campers, three snowmobiles were sent out to the lake. Schirman said his snowmobile's wider tracks enabled him to move across the fresh snow better than his partners, getting him to the victims first.
Snowmobiling Forest Service firefighters Scott Landith and David Savage caught up with Schirman at the campsite, said Jean Gilbertson, spokesperson for the Blue Ridge Ranger District.
The DPS Snow Cat was then directed to the campsite and carried the four to safety. They were tired, cold but in otherwise good condition, Gilbertson said.
The Coconino County Sheriff's Department also rescued five others during the spring snowstorm, said Lt. Mark Christian.
A woman and her 13- and 8-year-old grandchildren were picked up on Wednesday, March 31 at the junction of forest roads 137 and 300. A man and his son who had been stranded since March 31 were located in the Knoll Lake area on Saturday.