Busy weekend for search and rescue crews, safety tips for hikers and cyclists

A helicopter with the Arizona Department of Public Safety responds to a request from the Washington County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team for aid transporting a 17-year-old fall victim, Washington County, Utah, April 20, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, St. George News

CEDAR CITY – Memorial Day weekend is a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts and one of the busiest for search and rescue crews.

The weekend began for Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Thursday night with a major traffic accident followed by two more calls over the next 24 hours to assist with a lost hiker and an injured mountain bicyclist.

Likewise, Iron County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue started their weekend early Thursday morning with a call to help locate a 60-year-old woman who was reported lost off state Route 56. That incident wasn’t closed out for more than 12 hours later when they finally found her.

Search and rescue crews in both counties are gearing up for even more calls over the next three days as the warm weather forecast means more people out exploring and recreating in Southern Utah’s beautiful back country.

So as outdoor enthusiasts hit the lakes, mountains and trails this weekend, authorities are thinking “safety first,” and have a few simple reminders that may save a life.

“We want people to come to Southern Utah and enjoy what we have here but we want them to be safe,” Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower said. “We understand people want to have fun and we want them to get out there this weekend and do just that but the fact is, many accidents and fatalities can be avoided all together with just a little preparation and thinking about safety first.”

Hikers and cyclists particularly can take a myriad of steps before venturing out that will help to ensure a safe return home.

More importantly than anything else those who plan to go out into the back country and wilderness need to let someone know where they’re going, what time they’re leaving and when they plan to return, Gower said.

Additionally, if plans change, make sure to call someone and let them know.

“I can’t even tell you how many times someone was going on a hike or a bike ride in the mountain and half way there, they change their minds and decide to go somewhere else,” Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Liaison Darrell Cashin said. “But then they don’t call anyone and let them know. So, we’re looking for the person in the area they’re supposed to be in but their five miles, ten miles, away from where we are.”

Searching for missing person is costly and can often take a full day to even weeks. Iron County has 3,300 square miles to get lost in and Washington County has 2,500 – both very large areas to search for someone if authorities don’t have a beginning point, Cashin said.

It’s important hikers take enough water, snacks and adequate supplies with them as well.

If hiking in Washington County, temperatures can often exceed 110 degrees. Cashin said there have many times where crews were called out to assist for hikers who had gone out and didn’t have enough water to get back.

Taking a few snacks to sustain energy is also important especially in times of trouble such as when a person is lost or injured.

Authorities warn not to depend on cell service if going out of the city limits. There are many areas in Southern Utah where there is no cell service available and it doesn’t take long to get out of town to find them, Gower said.

If lost without cell service to call 911, Cashin recommends either backtracking one’s steps or finding a highpoint where cell service can often be found. At the same time, he warns not to go wandering too far because it will be more difficult for crews to locate you.

Additionally, cell phones purchased over the counter at retail stores that have “pay as you go” terms often lack GPS tracking systems and if able to be tracked are often unreliable.

There is however, emergency equipment available that uses satellites and can be accessed in remote locations. It costs about $200 and can be activated for $10 a month.

Gower recommends traveling in groups of at least two and preferably three when exploring the backcountry.

“That way someone can seek help if another member of the party is injured,” Gower said. ‘Going in groups of at least three is even better because that way one person can stay behind with the injured person while another goes and gets help. But, either way, at least take two because then there is always at least one person who can walk out to call for help.”

Hikers traveling with children and pets are urged to use extra caution around creeks and rivers where there are often dangerous swift water conditions due to high spring runoff.

Finally, make sure to check the forecast before leaving the house. If there is a chance of rain avoid areas prone to flash flooding such as slot canyons where the passage is very narrow and several hundred feet deep. Flooding can turn these types of areas into deadly channels of fast-moving water and debris within minutes.

Other safety tips include:

  • Don’t take unnecessary risks
  • Stay on marked trails and do not climb on waterfalls
  • Avoid getting too close to ledges where the ground easily can erode and give way
  • Know your limits. Don’t hike, cycle or rappel an area you’re not prepared or in shape to do
  • Plan for changing conditions
  • If swimming or boating in lakes or reservoirs be sure to always wear a life jacket.
  • Never climb on waterfalls
  • Always carry quality rain gear and turn back at the sign of bad weather.
  • If it begins to rain it’s important to seek shelter to avoid hypothermia by getting too wet and cold
  • Dress in layers, avoid cotton and wear bright colors. Don’t dress children in camouflage
  • Carry a whistle – three short blasts is a sign of distress
  • Don’t rely on GPS to prevent you from getting lost

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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