David Christensen died Saturday morning after falling 35 feet while hiking the rugged terrain of Pine Creek Narrows Canyon alone. He suffered a broken leg, broken arm and internal injuries in the fall.
"We've only lived here for a few years," said his wife, Pam Christensen. "He loved to spend his weekends exploring."
Jason Weaver and a group of friends were rock climbing not far from where David Christensen fell. They heard him scream and they heard the fall. The climbers found Christensen still coherent, but badly injured.
"His primary concern was his wife and how much he loved her," wrote Weaver in an e-mail to the Payson Roundup.
While some of the climbers stayed by his side, one hiked for an hour until he could get cell phone reception and call 911. The call came into dispatch at 11:27 a.m.
The caller directed Pine-Strawberry firemen to meet him, then led them to Christensen.
A Department of Public Safety helicopter tried several different approaches to get to Christensen, but the steep terrain and the winds were against them, said Bill Pitterle, commander of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue.
"We started going in when it became apparent the helicopter wasn't going to get to him," Pitterle said. "Unfortunately, he passed away from his injuries before we got to him."
Christensen was known locally as a private investigator, an intern at KMOG radio and a member of mayoral candidate Bob Edwards' strategy committee.
"He recently graduated from radio broadcast school and was working in the Valley as a news editor at Westwood 1," Pam said.
In the years before moving to Payson, Christensen served in the U.S. Army, was a Chicago policeman for 10 years and served as a town councilman in Irvine, Calif. He was an avid acrobatic pilot and, at one time in his life, he worked as one of John Wayne's main security officers.
Pam and Dave met when she was reluctantly selling a horse.
"He used to say he liked the girl better than the horse," she said. They started dating and married seven months later. "We'd been married three years and one month to the day when he died."
"David had an outgoing personality and a real desire to work in radio," said KMOG disc jockey Ron Gibson.
"Just a week ago we were concerned that he had a heart problem. Then it turned out he was OK," said Bob Edwards, who participated in the rescue as a member of TRSAR.
"We were all relieved. Dave was going to live. Then, whammo, we get this call.
"It certainly gives one a different perspective on search and rescue. We didn't know (who we had attempted to help) until the next afternoon when his wife Pam sent an e-mail."
Another member of TRSAR, Hal Baas, was on the team that was called out Saturday.
Baas got to know Christensen through his work at KMOG about six months ago and said he thought he was "a very admirable person -- a leadership type with common sense who was cool under pressure.
"I consider him a major loss to the community," Baas said.