Volunteers were exhausted, but grateful for two successful search and rescue missions involving children and their mothers recently, one north of Payson and the other outside of Young.
On Friday, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office called out the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue to help locate a Valley woman and her 4-year-old daughter.
Trista and her daughter, Shelby, were camping off Hardscrabble Road with Trista’s boyfriend, Alan, when they walked away from camp for what was supposed to be a quick hike, said Bill Pitterle, commander of TRSAR.
Alan had gone out around 6 a.m. Friday morning to scout for an upcoming archery hunt and when he returned around 8 a.m. he found camp empty. He knew Trista and Shelby might go out for a hike, but when they had not returned around noon he started looking for them. At 3 p.m., he called for help. TRSAR responded with volunteers, quads and dogs.
“We covered a lot of territory,” Pitterle said.
The Department of Public Safety searched by helicopter and went through two tanks of fuel, but there was still no sign of the mother and daughter.
DPS continued to search as night fell, using a heat-sensing camera while Pitterle and several other volunteers continued to look by foot through the night.
At 6 a.m., there were 30 people on the search. Cell phone records last pinged Trista’s cell phone Friday south of camp. Searchers focused their efforts there and around 9 a.m. a volunteer on a quad found them tired, but uninjured.
They were roughly 2.5 miles southwest of camp.
Pitterle believes they got turned around and waited out the night huddled under a tree. They had no food, water or warm clothes.
TRSAR volunteer Larry Johnston said finding the mother and daughter is the reason they train and give up so many hours.
“Some people wonder why we spend countless hours training, drop our plans on the spur of the moment, drive long distances, sleep in our cars or on a trail, tromp through thick brush in bear and mountain lion country in all kinds of bad weather, swim through flash flooded creeks and washes, rappel over steep cliffs and out of perfectly good helicopters, risking our lives voluntarily,” he wrote. “The answer is seen in the face of Shelby, a little girl that was wandering in the wilderness near Pine all day and spent a cold night in the mountains with her mother, tired, dehydrated and afraid of bears and bobcats. This is why we do it!”
Wednesday night, during a monsoon-driven storm, a mother and her two children got stranded on the shore of Cherry Creek outside of Young when their vehicle got stuck in the water.
Pitterle said they were called out around 9:30 p.m. after the woman drove through the swollen creek and got stuck. They somehow made it out of their vehicle, but they were trapped between two crossings.
A GCSO deputy waded across the creek and attached a line to the other side. A kayak was then used to safely shuttle the woman and her children across. They included a 7-year-old and a 7-week-old baby, he said.
No one was injured.