Search and rescue missions increase in northern Arizona

MCSO Search and Rescue, along with DPS and Grand Canyon West Fire Department personnel, work to free a woman who fell 50 feet down a crevice recently.

Mohave County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy

MCSO Search and Rescue, along with DPS and Grand Canyon West Fire Department personnel, work to free a woman who fell 50 feet down a crevice recently.

FLAGSTAFF (AP) – Authorities have seen a big increase in search and rescue missions in northern Arizona, driven by a surge in popularity of outdoor recreation areas.

From May 20 to June 15, search and rescue teams with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office have conducted 21 technical rescues requiring special equipment and personnel, such as a helicopter or volunteers who can rappel down hard to reach cliff faces, The Arizona Daily Sun reported.

“We have heard the same thing from every organization we have talked to,” Sheriff’s Cmdr. Rex Gilliland said. “We are seeing an overall increase in recreational activities in the national park. Outdoors in Flagstaff and Coconino County are being discovered and loved to death.”

Some of those rescues even went on at the same time, Gilliland said.

“We had a fall victim in West Clear Creek while at the same time we have a mission outside of Page, a kid stuck down in Waterholes Canyon,” Gilliland said.

The sheriff’s office is already projecting that it will surpass the number of missions conducted last year. County search and rescue teams have conducted 63 search and rescue missions since the start of 2017 versus 90 missions for all of 2016.

“We are doing about three to four rescues a week,” Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Coordinator Sgt. Aaron Dick said. “We have been dealing with multiple missions with limited resources, so we have been determining which incidents are most urgent.”

On a busy tourist weekend for Coconino County, technical rescue teams could be forced to respond to multiple search and rescue missions on opposite sides of the 18,661-square-mile county.