Large-Scale Search Effort Sent Out For Hiker Not Lost

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When Richard Lindfors, 72, pulled into his driveway around 11 p.m. Wednesday he had no idea that, with his homecoming, a 30-hour search effort on the rugged Arizona Trail near Sierra Vista would end.

Family members and authorities believed Lindfors had been missing for almost two days.

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Richard Lindfors

"Cheers went up all over (when we heard)," said Lindfors' daughter Heather who flew in from California to wait, trail-side, with members of the search and rescue teams.

"I really believed my father was dead because of his age and the time he had been alone," she said. Lindfors is in his 70s. "It was horrifying.

"I watched the rescue effort escalate over the next day," Heather said. Several helicopters and an unmanned aerial vehicle were in the air searching for a sign of Lindfors or his white truck. Heather estimated there were perhaps 200 people involved in the search.

"It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," she said.

The search for Lindfors was set off by a simple miscommunication.

Lindfors planned and executed his hike by the book. He told his brother and daughter what trail he planned to hike and when, then he did that.

He checked in at the Coronado Monument Visitors Center before beginning his hike.

When he got to the top of Miller's Peak at 11 a.m. Tuesday, he was able to use his cell phone to leave a brief message on his brother's answering machine, saying he made it to the summit.

The answering machine was broken and the message was garbled and playable just once, Heather said.

"It really sounded like he was in distress," she said. Lindfors is still surprised by the chain of events his phone message set off.

"My brother is in New Jersey," he said. "Why would I call him when 911 is imbedded in my head for emergencies?"

Lindfors' brother tried to call back, but couldn't reach him.

Once authorities were contacted to report Lindfors missing and possibly hurt, the cell phone call was traced to one of Verizon's Sierra Vista towers. The signal was narrowed to an area 12 miles southeast of the tower.

Cochise County Sheriff's Sgt. David Noland headed up the first search team and coordinated efforts between several search and rescue organizations, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Fort Huachuca Army Base, Arizona Department of Public Safety, the National Park Service and U.S. Customs.

The Arizona Trail, where they believed Lindfors to be, winds through a mountain range 30 miles long and 20 miles wide. It ranges in elevation from 3,500 to 9,600 feet.

"We left several voice mails on his cell phone," Noland said. "I don't know why he didn't check his cell phone."

Heather said her dad turned off his cell phone so he could enjoy a quiet, leisurely drive home.

"He feels so bad about the amount of effort," Heather said. "This is a fantastic lesson in communication."

In her opinion, two things caused the search.

First, the garbled answering machine message, then a missed communication when her father checked out at the same ranger station he checked in with before his hike.

Lindfors said he sat and had a soda and a 15-minute conversation with the ranger there.

"I told him I was very tired because I just climbed Miller's Peak," Lindfors said.

That was about 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

Heather arrived from California about 4 p.m.

It is not known why no one on the search team was aware of Lindfors' stop at the ranger station before the search started at 6 p.m.

When the call came through that Lindfors was home and safe, Heather said, "you might think rescue workers would feel disrespected. But the goal of those couple hundred people was that this man they were looking for is safe.

"I feel bad I didn't get to say thank you to all of them.

"This was my daddy." Her voice broke. "I felt fear that whole time, but I never fell apart. I could have been standing in that wilderness looking at that mountain all alone in the world thinking my dad was up there dying. Instead, I had this incredible cast of strangers who cared about nothing more over those two days than finding my dad."

Lindfors' son Stuart, an Army helicopter pilot with search and rescue experience, said, "It is gratifying to see how many people care regardless of the rationale. It is good to live in a country that would expend these resources on an individual."

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