Three separate pleas for help sent search and rescue teams scrambling late Friday afternoon.
All three rescues ended successfully, but the flurry taxed the combined resources of the the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue (TRSAR) and the Mounted Posse, which sent teams to Christopher Creek, the Mazatzal Wilderness and Fossil Creek.
TRSAR Commander Bill Pitterle reported that all three rescues ended successfully.
Sergeant Terry Hudgens from the county sheriff’s department headed up the search for a hiker who went off trail in the Mazatzal Wilderness and feared for his health.
Located deep in a canyon off of the Barnhardt Trail, the hiker from Phoenix activated his Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) alerting officials he needed help. Officials had a difficult time isolating the signal because the hiker ended up deep in a canyon off of Sandy Saddle.
“PLB’s depend on a satellite to relay a signal,” said Pitterle, “His signal was difficult to locate we think because of the way it reflected off of canyon walls.”
Originally, a helicopter was called from Kingman, but officials rerouted it to help an injured person in Box Canyon located below Kohl’s Ranch and the R Bar C Boy Scout camp. Instead, a helicopter called in from Maricopa County located the hiker around 8 p.m. from the glow of his campfire.
Rescuers decided to wait until morning to evacuate the man by helicopter because it was too dangerous to insert a team, said Pitterle.
With the daylight, the helicopter made a one-skid landing with full power and the lost, sick and dehydrated hiker hopped aboard. Officials flew him to a hospital in Phoenix.
In a second incident, the TRSAR facilitated the rescue of a Phoenix man injured in a 15-foot-fall in Box Canyon, said Pitterle.
Visitors to the area enjoy the pools surrounded by high cliffs that offer a chance for jumping.
“The hiker had fallen from 15 feet onto his knee,” said Pitterle, “The word we got was it was broken.”
A dozen TRSAR volunteers turned out at 4 p.m. and didn’t finish until about 8:30 p.m.
TRSAR prepared to rope rescue the injured hiker, however, that proved unnecessary. Officials discovered the hiker was located farther into the canyon in an area that had wider walls. This enabled the helicopter to find a place to land to evacuate the man, said Pitterle.
Native Air then flew the man to a Scottsdale hospital.
In the third incident of the day, the Mounted Posse rescued an injured hiker from just off the Fossil Springs Trail, said Pitterle.
“Fossil Springs is well suited to the Mounted Posse’s capabilities,” said Pitterle, “if we can ascertain if they can come out on horseback.”
The Fossil Springs Trail runs down to the spring source of Fossil Creek. The 7.8-mile trail includes a daunting elevation gain of 1,391 feet, which makes for a tough hike at the end of a long day.
When down at the creek, hikers often injure themselves. Some jump into deep pools from steep rock cliffs, but underestimate the underwater hazards.
The trail has numerous rocks and water damage ruts, which can easily twist an ankle.
The hiker had sprained his ankle and needed a horseback rescue.