Sheep Clobbers Hiker, Rescue Needed


It was a busy weekend for Tonto Rim Search and Rescue volunteers. On Saturday morning, a Tucson man backpacking near Fossil Creek was knocked unconscious after several big horn sheep in the area loosened rock above him, which tumbled down and hit him in the head.

On the same day, a 74-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s went missing from her home in Chaparral Pines

The 43-year-old Tucsonan was camping with his wife and a friend near Fossil Creek and the Verde River around 9 a.m. when they saw four big horn sheep walking above them in the canyon. Their wonder at the sight of the sheep quickly turned to panic when they heard rocks tumbling down the canyon, said Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Commander Bill Pitterle.

The group ran for cover, but the Tucson man was struck by a rock in the head and fell unconscious.

When the man came to, he was reportedly very disoriented, bleeding from the head and could not remember basic information about himself or the day. After calming the man’s wife down, the man’s friend decided to hike out five miles to get cell phone service and call for help, Pitterle said.

A Gila County Sheriff’s deputy and Tonto Rim Search and Rescue volunteers responded to the area around 1 p.m. and determined the man needed to be airlifted out, so Native Air was called.

The pilot landed the helicopter near the creek, and airlifted the man out to a hospital. The TRSAR volunteers then had to hike for several more hours to get home.

Pitterle said he arrived home around 8 p.m. only to get another call an hour later telling him that a 74-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s and medical problems was missing from her Chaparral Pines home.

The Payson Police Department had already been on scene since 6 p.m. looking for the woman, along with residents and security from Chaparral Pines.

Pitterle and 12 other TRSAR volunteers headed out to the area and began looking for the woman, who was last seen around 5 p.m. by her husband.

“We started in a radiating pattern from her house and basically went around to each house,” Pitterle said.

Because of the wooded area, the Payson police also called in the Department of Public Safety Ranger helicopter that provided an aerial spotlight and night vision capabilities, said Sgt. John Heflin.

Around 11 p.m. a TRSAR volunteer found the woman three blocks from her home sitting on a back porch.

She was brought back home uninjured.

“This is a fine example of how multiple agencies can work together as a team and pool their resources for a successful outcome,” Heflin said.

“I would like to thank the Payson Police Department, Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, and dispatchers involved with this call. Our thanks also goes out to the Chaparral Pines community and security officers, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue and to Arizona Department of Public Safety Ranger for their diligent work.”


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