Two women are safe this week, following their weekend rescue by the Gila County Sheriff's Department and Tonto Rim Search and Rescue.
Saturday at about 6 p.m., 54-year-old Pamela Lemen walked away from the camp where she and her husband had been staying on Forest Service road 198 approximately three-tenths of a mile from the 199 road. Her husband assumed she had just gone for a walk.
Meanwhile, he fell asleep and when he awoke at 2:30 a.m., he found she was still missing. He began searching the area but still could not locate her. He then called the sheriff's department.
Sgt. Terry Hudgens arrived on the scene to oversee the search operations just before 4 a.m., immediately requested assistance from Tonto Rim Search and Rescue and filed an Attempt to Locate with the Payson Police Department in case the woman managed to find her way into town.
Teams quickly began searching the numerous trails in the area with the use of 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles, with their first objective to locate the woman's tracks.
"We kept finding footprints that we hoped belonged to the missing subject but they turned out to be footprints left by the husband when he was searching," Hudgens said.
This is often the first and biggest challenge for trackers and search dog teams as they struggle to find the right tracks or scent trail.
In this instance, her tracks were finally located on an ATV trail approximately 3/4 of a mile east of their camp.
"A tracking team followed the tracks until they located the victim in a shallow wash just north of the trail at 7:10 a.m.," Hudgens said. The woman was cold but medical personnel from the Mesa Del Caballo Fire Department examined and transported her to Payson Regional Medical Center, where she was examined and released.
Experts say it is important to not cover over tracks and scent trails, and to call authorities as soon as any member in your party becomes lost. Especially in cold weather, time can make the difference between life and death in search and rescue operations.
Crews rescue fall victim
The same rescue crews assisted Pine-Strawberry Fire Department personnel Sunday at the Tonto Natural Bridge, where 36-year-old Diane Deluca had fallen, suffering injuries that prevented her from walking out of the deep canyon.
Shortly after 2 p.m., park rangers called the Gila County Sheriff's Department requesting medical assistance and manpower to carry the woman to the top of the canyon. The victim had been climbing on the wet slippery rocks beneath the bridge when she fell injuring her hip.
P-S Fire Department personnel stabilized and administered morphine to the victim, who said she was experiencing considerable pain. Crews placed her in a rescue litter and carried her up the steep canyon trail. Deluca was then transported to the Payson Regional Medical Center where later examination revealed she had fractured her left hip.