Memorial Weekend Keeps Search And Rescue Teams Busy

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With Memorial Day weekend kicking off the summer, an influx of visitors convened on the Rim Country, bombarding lakes, campgrounds and forests for recreation.

If last weekend is any indication, it is going to be a busy summer for law enforcement officers, firefighters and search and rescue volunteers. In northern Gila County, emergency officials rescued two people, one for a broken ankle and another lost in the woods.

On Friday, a woman hiking alone near the Barnhardt Trail became disoriented when the trail washed out.

The woman was reportedly hiking the Rock Creek Trail, roughly 10 miles south of Payson in between the Barnhardt and North Peak Trails, when she passed through a wash. After hiking beyond the wash, the woman turned around, but could not locate the trail she had come in on. After wandering around awhile, she called for help on her cell phone and volunteers with the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue (TRSAR) hiked in and found her uninjured about a mile from the trailhead.

On Sunday, a 23-year-old Valley man was not so lucky. While climbing up rocks near a Fossil Creek waterfall just after noon, the man slipped and fell, breaking his ankle.

The man was roughly a mile north of the lower trailhead and unable to hike back for help. Arizona Game and Fish personnel located the man among the hundreds of people who were visiting the creek and six firefighters with Pine-Strawberry hiked in to treat him until TRSAR could carry him out, said David Staub, P-S fire chief.

Half a dozen TRSAR volunteers carried the man out on a litter. TRSAR Commander Bill Pitterle said he had to turn some volunteers away because there wasn’t enough parking in the crowded recreation site known for its crystal clear water and numerous waterfalls.

Historically, holiday weekends attract large numbers of people to northern Arizona forests and campgrounds for outdoor recreational activities, including off-road activities. 

This holiday was no exception. Over the weekend, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office conducted 201 traffic stops, 42 of which were with off-highway vehicle (OHV) operators.

Throughout Coconino County, search and rescue responded to eight calls, including those for overdue hikers, an overdue ATV rider, a fall injury at Mooney Falls in the Grand Canyon and another fall injury south of Page. All of these calls ended with successful rescues.

Man drowns trying to help others

A 40-year-old Surprise man drowned Sunday morning when his canoe overturned in a popular Mogollon Rim lake.

Saul Olivarez was reportedly attempting to help two people after their canoe upturned when his canoe overturned in Willow Springs Lake, the second most visited lake on the Mogollon Rim, after Woods Canyon.

The two people made it out of the lake safely, but Olivarez went missing, said a Gila County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson in a release. A deputy from the Forest Lakes area and the Forest Lakes Fire Department searched the 150-acre lake for Olivarez, but could not locate him.

Using dive equipment, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and National Park Service Glen Canyon dive rescue teams searched the lake throughout the evening, but with no luck. The search was suspended overnight and resumed Monday morning. At 4 p.m., searchers located Olivarez’s body.

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