A Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine helicopter and crew from El Paso, Texas, was called in last week to rescue four hikers who got stranded by high-water conditions when the Gila River flooded last week due to the rain, according to a report provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Two of the four stranded hikers are Silver City residents, according to New Mexico State Police Lt. Robert McDonald.
The New Mexico State Police received a call Sept. 21 at about 11 p.m. from Houston, Texas. Two hikers from Houston had travelled to the Gila National Forest but had not been heard from by family members. Growing concerned, family members called police.
NM State Police checked on the hikers’ car, which was located at Woody’s Corral, near the Gila Cliff Dwellings, after receiving the call, McDonald said. A patrol unit confirmed the hikers’ car was still where they had reportedly left it. NM State Police then called NM Search and Rescue and a team assembled the following morning on Sept. 22. The CBP Air and Marine helicopter joined the search. The CBP Air and Marine helicopter crew spotted the two lost hikers about eight-and-a-half miles upstream from the Cliff Dwellings at the Gila River’s West Fork.
The helicopter crew made contact with the hikers, but due to the steep canyons the hikers could not exit from their location safely. The helicopter crew then made contact with NM Search and Rescue to assess the situation. Because the Gila River was so swollen by Sept. 22 due to the rains last week, Search and Rescue could not cross the river to get to the stranded men. They made the decision to wait out the flooded river by a day to see if the water would recede by Sept. 23. The helicopter then flew back and dropped provisions and a note to the two men. The note let the hikers know of Search and Rescue’s plan to try to get to them the following day.
When Tuesday arrived, Search and Rescue re-assessed the river and concluded the water had not receded enough to make crossing the river safe. Then at about 1 p.m. Sept. 23, NM State Police got a second call, this time from Silver City, alerting police to two additional hikers lost in the Gila National Forest, McDonald stated. The lost Silver City hikers were Natalie and Ryan Carrel, according to McDonald.
The helicopter crew found the Carrels, who were also stranded by high-water conditions. According to McDonald, the Carrels were on the same trail the two Houston hikers had traversed earlier. The crew dropped provisions, along with a note, for the Carrels. The note explained how to find the location where the Houston hikers were still located. The four lost hikers kept each other company Tuesday night. Search and Rescue waited another night to see if the river water would recede.
The water still had not receded enough by Wednesday for Search and Rescue to cross the river, so the CBP Air and Marine helicopter received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to land, according to the report.
The crew made two lifts to fly out the hikers two at a time, the report states. The four lost hikers were rescued at about 9 a.m. Sept. 24, McDonald said. All four hikers were fine and no one required medical attention.
Susan Dunlap can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5803.