Searchers say all missing hikers accounted for; hope lesson is learned

CREATED Jan 26, 2013

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  • Upwards of 50 hikers were trapped by flood waters in Bear Canyon. Deputies conducted a search and rescue for the hikers.

Reporter: Maggie Vespa

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A love of nature put hikers' lives at risk Saturday afternoon.

That's when Pima County deputies say raging flood waters trapped close to 50 hikers.

The flood of 9-1-1 calls that followed, sparked a large-scale rescue operation that continued well into the late evening hours and covered seven well known wash-points.

Searchers spent hours out on foot and in the air, using infrared technology to find the dozens of people who made those emergency calls.

They add it was a mass search & rescue effort that, while successful, could have been avoided.

By mid to late afternoon, this appears to be the worst of it.

"Each time we saw a different crossing, we were surprised to find the water was so heavy, we couldn't get through,” said hiker Devin Fraze.

The final few of more than two dozen hikers stranded in Bear Canyon, are led to safety through a raging river, that rose in a matter of minutes.

"I’ve never seen anything like this.  No, I’ve never gotten caught like this,” said hiker Jesse Boyd.  “I’ve gotten caught in rain out here, but nothing to the point where I had to be rescued."

But deputies soon realize the number of reports, like the water, is still rising.

"We got more calls from more groups, until we had somewhere between 40 to 50 hikers who were trapped in a variety of different locations,” said Deputy Tom Peine.

By sunset a makeshift headquarters is set up at Sabino Canyon.

Reports indicate the count of missing hikers has been whittled down to a dozen.

Among them is a 17 year-old boy and a person with an injured ankle.

"It’s always a challenge to find out where exactly are they,” said Peine.  “As you mentioned, we have no more daylight, so it makes the search a little more difficult."

Searchers head out on foot and via helicopter, relying mainly on technology like infrared capabilities and smart phones with GPS.

"We’re getting a little more complicated when we talk about all these individuals, where not everybody may have called 9-1-1 yet."

Within hours, the hard work pays off.

All who were reported missing are accounted for.

It’s a happy ending that deputies hope, leads to a lesson learned.

"We can prepare ourselves when we go on these trips,” said Peine.  “Always bring enough water.  Make sure to look at the weather forecast.  Bring some extra food because, again, things can happen out there, and people need to be prepared to deal with it."

He adds it’s important to check the weather forecast, not in the canyons, but up in the mountains.

If it’s rained or snowed there recently, that water eventually will come down.