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Oak Creek Canyon, AZ – On Saturday, July 18, 2015 at approximately 4:07 pm the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a representative of the Arizona Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) advising that a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) had been activated with GPS coordinates in Illusions Canyon located within the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon. ADEM personnel determined who the registered owner of the device was and also advised that Air Force Personnel received the emergency signal as well. At this point a multi-agency response was initiated. Participating agencies included Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Coconino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, US Air Force 55th Aerial Rescue Squadron based out of Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Sedona Fire District (SFD), the Arizona Department of Emergency Management and Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) Air Rescue based in Flagstaff.
At about 4:52 pm the Northern Arizona 911 reception center received a cell phone call from an individual who identified himself as a member of the hiking party that included the victim who was the subject of the activated PLB device. The caller advised that the victim was located in the area of the confluence of West Fork. According to the caller the victim suffered a broken leg at approximately 11:00 am that day and members of his party were not able to access cell phone service from the victim’s location. The caller hiked out of the canyon to a location where he could access cell phone service.
By 5:20 pm the CCSO resident deputy in Oak Creek Canyon and a Sedona firefighter were at the Call of the Canyon which is the trail head for West Fork. Two Sedona Fire Department Technical Rescue Teams were deployed into the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon on foot in an attempt to locate the victim. DPS Rescue Helicopter was not able to assist on Saturday due to active thunderstorms in the area. By 7:50 pm two CCSO SAR teams were at the top of the rim and established an Incident Command Post (ICP) off of Woody Mountain Road. Because of the weather and inability to launch a heli-rescue, the victim and others in the party were asked to shelter in place. Rescue crews on the ground also staged at the ICP overnight, camping in the rain and thunder storms.
At about 6:00 am on Sunday morning rescuers received a break in the storm activity. The DPS helicopter with a CCSO SAR technical rescue operator on board flew the area and located the party of six including the victim. Two SFD technical rescue operators were inserted into the canyon via a helicopter rappel from the DPS aircraft. A CCSO SAR technical rescue ground team was staged at the rim. The DPS Ranger helicopter extracted the victim and a SFD rescuer using the Short Haul method during which the rescuer and victim are suspended on a line underneath the helicopter and flown to a safe area in this case the parking lot of the West Fork of Oak Creek trail head. Sedona Fire transported the victim to the Flagstaff Medical Level One Trauma Center via ground ambulance. Two HH 60 Pave Hawk helicopters from the USAF 55th Air Rescue Squadron extracted the remaining 5 members of the victim’s party by hoisting them from the ground into the hovering helicopters.
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Media Contact: Gerry Blair, Coconino County Sheriff's Office, 928-226-5089