Volunteer rescuers rigged ropes and hauled three wet, cold, hungry children and their two fathers up a 160-ft. cliff on Saturday — a happy end to a scary story.
Tonto Rim Search and Rescue volunteers worked nearly 11 hours to rescue the group, which included Sean, his son Corbin, 9, and Craig with his two daughters Amber, 10, and Keturah, 14. Rescuers said they don’t know where the group lives.
The group set off early Saturday to canyoneer through Salome Canyon northeast of Roosevelt Lake. They rappelled over waterfalls and swam through several deep pools before being caught behind a larger group, said TRSAR Commander Bill Pitterle.
“They were held up getting through the canyon because a group of 30 was ahead of them and only had two harnesses for the places requiring lowering,” he said. “They wound up being caught after dark about halfway through, cold from water with little food.”
Realizing they could not rappel down the last waterfall and swim through three more pools in the cold darkness, Craig hiked out until he got cell service and called for help about 9 p.m.
“They were at the last waterfall and had to rappel down 15 feet. They stopped above it and decided they did not want to do it in the dark,” Pitterle said.
When Pitterle got the call from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, he roused up as many TRSAR volunteers as he could to head out to the remote, rugged canyon. Pitterle worried about the high stream levels due to recent rain.
TRSAR volunteers Roger and Tammy Miotto, Ernest Sambrano, Gary Morris and Morris Brown arrived at the canyon with Pitterle around midnight.
“We hiked in with rope gear, warm weather clothes, food, water and a plan of finding them and keeping them warm until morning.
Pitterle, Sambrano, Morris and Brown hiked two miles along the edge of the canyon, whistling and shining lights, trying to locate the group perched below on a narrow shelf.
“The first problem was finding them. That took a couple hours,” Pitterle said.
Meanwhile, the Miottos hiked up from the lower end of the canyon.
“We met in the middle, then worked back downstream and found them about a quarter mile below the last rescue (a month prior),” he said.
Roger rappelled down to the group with warm clothes and water. Although the group had managed to start a fire, Pitterle said they were cold and wet.
Rescuers used a rig system to hoist all three children and Craig out of the canyon.
“It was 160 feet to the bottom, mostly vertical with two tiny ledges.
“We used a 180-foot rope for belay and there was 10 feet of it on the ground when Roger touched, and we were 10 feet back from the edge,” Pitterle said. “It took four hours to get them all up.”
By 10:30 a.m., the whole group was back at the trailhead and the children were reunited with their mothers.
“It was a tough mission, but memorable,” he said.
Earlier Saturday, TRSAR volunteers got a call to help a fisherman in Horton Creek who had injured his knee.
About 3 p.m., five volunteers headed up the trail with a wheeled litter to carry out the man, who was two miles up the trail and unable to put any weight on one leg due to a slip and fall.
Volunteers loaded the man on the litter and carried him down the trail. Two additional squad members walked in and helped with the carryout and a third member arrived later. The subject was in good spirits during the carryout and all of the TRSAR members worked hard to get him out safely. Volunteers arrived back to the trailhead by 6:30 p.m.
For more information or to donate to TRSAR, visit www.trsar.org.