On Tuesday, June 2, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Public Safety collaborated to rescue a 58-year-old Tucson man who had survived three days without water on the Arizona Trail.
But he didn’t have to.
“There are several springs along the trail,” said Sergeant Rodney Cronk of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. “He found a couple of them, but didn’t like the quality of the water he saw … he apparently didn’t have a water filter.”
Cronk served as the commander for the rescue operation that took place in the Mazatzal Wilderness on the Arizona Trail between Roosevelt Lake and Payson. He spoke with the rescued hiker when the DPS helicopter that rescued him landed. The patient was then taken to a Native Air medical helicopter for transport to Payson Regional Medical Center.
Cronk said the man had just finished one liter of intravenous fluid when he landed. Paramedics started another in the chopper on his way to the hospital.
Cronk said the rescue started when the man’s wife called early in the morning saying she had received a text from her husband saying he was out of water and needed help.
“I sent a helicopter up there and the available one was DPS,” said Cronk.
In a press release, DPS said it launched a helicopter from Flagstaff that began the search at 5 a.m. on Tuesday.
“Forty-five minutes into the search for the hiker, (the pilot and paramedic crew) observed a backpack and sleeping bag strewn about the ground before locating the man in a prone position with one of his hands in the air; the man was unable to even turn his head to look at our helicopter,” said Terry Miyachi, DPS aviation commander.
DPS paramedic Chris Hecht said the man was about a tenth of a mile off the trail, 800 feet down into a canyon.
“It appeared that the patient was crawling up from the bottom of the canyon where he may have been looking for water since the vegetation was very green compared to the area of the trail,” said Hecht. “If the patient had been further down that canyon, we may not have found him in time.”
Cronk said the man’s wife told him her husband does long hikes trying to complete sections of the Arizona Trail. He had wandered off the trail seeking water.
Due to the challenging terrain where the hiker was found, the Flagstaff DPS helicopter had to land 15 minutes away.
Pilot Lowell Neshem and Paramedic Hecht hiked to the man with rescue gear, while a second DPS helicopter launched from Phoenix.
Cronk said the Phoenix helicopter had to perform a short haul rescue.
Short haul means moving people suspended from ropes or cables from the rescue location to someplace where they can be safely unhooked from the rope or cable.
For DPS, two paramedics are needed for short haul missions — one as a spotter from the aircraft and another attached to and hanging from the cable with the patient, 150 feet below the helicopter.
“We dropped a rope down and picked up the medic and the patient, then short hauled them down to Doll Baby,” said Cronk.
Cronk said he visited with the patient on Tuesday in the hospital and reported the man was recovering so well, he thought the hiker went home on Tuesday.