The magnitude of the incident quickly overwhelmed the local authorities and additional resources were needed. Mohave County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Search
& Rescue (SAR) responded and, in coordination with Colorado City and Hildale Fire Departments, immediately began searching several segments of the wash bottoms for survivors.
SAR members and other searchers had to be called out of the wash bottom several times due to continuing heavy rain and the potential for more flooding.
During this same time, a 22-year-old hunter was reported overdue from an area south of Colorado City. While plans were being made and MCSO SAR resources diverted to search for the hunter, he was found safe and sound by friends. Searchers returned to Colorado City and started searching again when a third incident was reported.
Three hikers were stranded on the side of Virgin River Gorge and the river was rising. Luckily, additional MCSO SAR members trained in swift water rescue were arriving and seven of them were diverted to the rescue in the Cedar Pockets area of the Virgin River Gorge.
“Fortunately the rescue did not take long and SAR members were soon on their way back to Colorado City to continue searching,” said MCSO SAR Captain Louie Vega. “The following day, a fourth incident was reported when a vehicle caught in a flash flood while traveling on a road 15 miles west of Colorado City was located,” according to Vega. The vehicle and its contents were carried downstream from the road for approximately a half a mile by flood waters, but the driver was not immediately found.
In coordination with Washington County, Utah, a search was initiated downstream from the vehicle. The wash was passable for about a mile and a half below the vehicle, at which point, it went over a set of 200 foot vertical waterfalls. The SAR members began searching the difficult terrain from the first set of falls to the lower falls and Washington County searched the area below the second set of falls.
Instead of attempting a 200-foot rappel, a DPS Ranger helicopter was called to transport searchers to the bottom of the first set of falls. “Because landing a helicopter in this type of terrain is impossible, the helicopter pilot had to do a one-skid maneuver (one skid of the helicopter is placed on a large rock and the helicopter continues hovering) while the searchers unload,” Vega said. “This is a very dangerous maneuver, but because of constant training, it’s routine for the Ranger helicopter pilots and searchers.”
According to officials, it took the MCSO SAR team five hours to cover a quarter mile. The wash bottom was covered with boulders, some the size of houses, with pools of water between the boulders and 20 feet vertical drops between boulders. As dusk was approaching, the SAR team was told to look for an extraction point; again using a large boulder for a one-skid, because they received word the body of the driver was located below the second set of waterfalls.
With the mission completed, the helicopter extracted the MCSO SAR members and all were able to return to home base.
Within the span of four days, a total of 30 MCSO SAR volunteers had responded to four incidents, including the rescue of three individuals. The equipment needed for these types of missions include ropes, carabineers, equipment for a swift water rescue, maps and four wheel drive vehicles for an extended search in the Arizona Strip, cadaver dogs, personal flotation devices and long poles to search flooded wash bottoms, just to mention a few.
There are four SAR units that fall under MCSO – Kingman, Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City and Arizona Strip, Because the units don’t receive government funding, the equipment used on missions is purchased using money raised by the individual units. “On behalf of all Mohave County SAR units,” Vega said, “we thank everyone who has supported our fund raisers over the years so that we can continue our efforts and adhere to the Search & Rescue motto, “That Others May Live.”