Horse Camp Canyon, Arizona
Posted on May 3, 2018 by Ana
Following is a timeline of incident events, as pieced together debriefing affected parties and a Pinal County search and rescue official involved with the incident. Starred times were recorded or logged. Other times are approximate.
09:00 Ana (IP), Ann and Nan, party of three, depart camp at Horse Camp Canyon for day hike upstream (east) in Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona.
15:45 Ana steps up a slippery bank and hurts her leg. First thought to be a sprain.
17:20 Scott and his wife Rachel, heading downstream (west) with backpacks encounter Ann (with IP), who informs them of incident. Nan (also with IP) has already headed downstream to get help. Scott offers to activate beacon. Ana declines because Nan has already departed for help and seriousness of injury not yet known.
17:40 Brandon, camper in canyon encountered by Nan and sent upstream, arrives. Scott and Brandon lift Ana to a better location on the bank of the stream.
17:50 After discussing situation, Ana, Scott and Rachel depart downstream while Brandon stays with Ana. (Brandon stayed with Ana until other help arrived, keeping her warm with a nice fire).
18:30 After informing Brandon’s family of the fact that he is staying with Ana, Scott and Rachel set up camp nearby. Ann continues downstream to retrieve Ana’s gear with the help of other campers in the canyon.
20:45 Ann and other campers reappear with Ana and Ann’s overnight gear, headed upstream to injury site. At this point, Scott gives them the beacon.
21:36 One of the campers helping out, Ras, is a first responder. He assesses Ana’s situation and urges her to activate. Beacon activated by Ana. Ann is fairly sure this time is accurate as Ras noted the time. Brandon departs back to his camp. Ras places the beacon in the middle of the gravel bar so that that SAR personnel will be able to see it (very critical).
*21:52 Air Force records beacon activated (as logged by search and rescue SAR).
*22:10 Pinal County sheriff’s department alerted
*22:13 Scott cellphone receives call and voicemail from Air Force. There was no cell service in the canyon and Scott did not have his phone.
*22:19 Susan Hamilton, primary contact for beacon activation, is notified by Air Force. GPS coordinates given to her are off by 1/4 mile, causing a lot of distress because they show IP on a cliff.
*22:34 SAR gets first set of GPS coordinates.
*23:42 Chopper departs Tucson
*23:56 SAR official Brian calls Susan, says he is waiting for the chopper at the mouth of the canyon, will call her when he knows more.
00:30 Scott hears chopper fly over his campsite. Uh-oh, he thinks. Over the next hour, he hears two more flyovers.
01:30 Helicopter lands on canyon inner rim, in the dark (but close to a full moon), and two SAR officials descend to canyon bottom to find IP and companion Ann. The SAR chopper had been given an updated set of coordinates, which made more sense (they were within 100 feet of the IP, but still on the canyon wall). The SAR team uses night vision goggles and saw the beacon strobe, which had been placed on the canyon floor by Ann. SAR official Jeff commented later about how much that strobe helped with location.
02:00 SAR Brian stays with IP on the canyon floor. It is determined to wait until morning to evacuate IP, as it is a risky maneuver in the dark and the IP seems to be doing OK. Chopper departs.
06:15 Chopper returns, lands in canyon bottom.
07:30 IP and Ann and all gear evacuated out of canyon to waiting ambulance at mouth of canyon.
09:00 Chopper returns to retrieve SAR personnel.
09:24 SAR Brian, who spent the night with IP, calls Susan to let her know that IP is not her brother, thus ending her sleepless night.
09:30 Aravaipa ranger starts up trail with Ann to locate Nan (other friend of IP who went for help) who would not have any info on what is transpiring (she, of course, heard the chopper, so has a pretty good guess).
10:00 Nan is located. All is well.
All told, Ann counted fourteen people involved with this rescue – many of those were other campers in the canyon. The issue was complicated by the fact that the IP and friends were out for a day hike and thus did not have their overnight gear or adequate clothing to spend the night. Night time temperatures got down to about 48F.
Pretty much everything was done right, in my opinion. Here are my thoughts:
1) The IP Ana was never alone.
2) Ann did yeoman duty rounding up other campers to make sure that Ana would have her overnight gear.
3) Nan was sent downstream to find help, which she did. This meant that Ann did not have to leave the IP alone.
4) It was difficult for the SAR personnel in the chopper to ascertain whether there was anyone at the incident site until they actually landed because they could not see the IP and Ann directly. It’s a good idea to shine your headlamp directly at the chopper even if it appears they see you, according to Ann.
4) SAR decided to wait until morning to do the evacuation, which given that the IP was relatively OK (remarkable, if you look at the X-ray), was a good decision. Splinting the leg as a precaution before evacuation might have been a good idea, however.
5) In hindsight, it would have been better to activate the beacon when we first came across the IP, but the severity of the injury and the cost of the pushing the button were unknown at the time. I later found out that in Arizona, anyway, there is no charge for SAR operations. If the helicopter had flown the IP directly to the Tucson hospital, there may have been a charge ($15K for the ride). SAR Jeff told me that if the SAR helicopter, as opposed to a flight-for-life chopper, had flown her to the hospital, there would have been no charge. I suggest checking with your insurance company about what is covered, as this came up several times before the button was pushed.
6) Finally, it would have been helpful if the SAR officials had gotten the IP’s name and been able to inform my sister Susan of the situation after the chopper departed at 02:00. While it is understandable that the focus is on the IP, it is likely that the notified party might take matters into their own hands due to lack of information and anxiety for the condition of loved ones, and mount their own rescue attempt. This was considered and abandoned, fortunately, but would surely have complicated the situation. It would be in the best interest of SAR officials to try to keep the notified party up to date if possible.
8) It would sure be nice if one could send some type of limited message with the beacon signal indicating who the IP was, and their condition.
9) Ana had a spiral fracture of the tibia. I would have been screaming my head off :-). Ironically, if she had done so we would have activated the beacon immediately. She is recovering with a rod and pins in place. Airports will be a problem.
Words of wisdom
It is always easy to second-guess how things should have been done after the fact, because during the actual incident knowledge is incomplete and there is a lot of time pressure, especially when it is getting dark.
Thank you note
Thank you ACR.
Horse Camp Canyon, Arizona
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