Multiple crews – and a drone – combine forces to rescue 2 hikers hours apart in Red Cliffs Reserve

Rescue effort in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Washington County, Utah March 17, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Search and Rescue, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Two separate rescue operations in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve kept emergency personnel, flight crews and search and rescue teams busy until late Tuesday night.

The first rescue was called in shortly after noon when a hiker suffered a fractured ankle while hiking the Church Rocks loop near Exit 13, a slickrock trail about 2.6 miles in length that rises to an elevation of more than 185 feet from the wash to the highest point on the ridge in the reserve.

The woman was hiking with a group who called 911 for help.

Washington City Police, as well as Washington City and Hurricane Valley Fire responded with ATVs to search for the injured hiker. Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin said Washington County Search and Rescue was also called in to conduct a ground search, and Intermountain Life Flight was launched to provide aerial assistance.

The Life Flight crew located the hiker and was able to land and immobilize the injury with a splint before flying the woman back to the incident command post.

“It was a lot faster to have the helicopter just fly her out once the crew spotted her,” Cashin said.

Image courtesy of Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, St. George News

At the command post, the woman was loaded into a ground ambulance and transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center for evaluation and treatment for a fractured ankle.

“Apparently she just stepped wrong and snapped that ankle,” Cashin said, adding that within two hours of the call, the rescue was completed and the hiker was on her way to the hospital.

Three hours later, a second call of a distressed hiker was reported in the same general area. The wife of a 69-year-old hiker called 911 shortly before 5 p.m. reporting that her husband had gone off the trail and was lost in a ravine after injuring his leg.

The man had a cell phone, Cashin said, but had turned it off after speaking to his wife to conserve the battery, telling her he would call again in about 15 minutes.

Search teams were dispatched to the area to conduct a ground search with very limited information as to the exact location of the hiker at that point.

Shortly thereafter, Cashin said, the husband called his wife back and was advised to call 911, at which point emergency dispatchers were able to ping his cell phone, which provided the GPS coordinates to his location.

As ground teams continued in the search, Cashin requested that Life Flight be deployed since the hiker was “about 500 feet below the top of a pinnacle out there.”

The flight crew responded and located the injured hiker, but despite multiple attempts to find a safe landing site, they were unable and instead signaled to the hiker to stay put and let him know that help was on the way.

“It was a great help just to let the hiker know we were coming and not to move so we could find him,” Cashin said.

Without a safe route for the rescue teams making their way through the reserve, a drone was deployed to fly above the area to guide the ground team. The drone provided coordinates as well a visual, Cashin said, which saved ground crews not only time but made it safer for everyone involved.

Rescue effort in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Washington County, Utah March 17, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Search and Rescue, St. George News

The search team and emergency medical personnel with Hurricane Valley Fire made their way to where the hiker was located, and by nightfall they reached the man who was without a jacket and was wet from scattered showers in the area and very cold.

The hiker was warmed up, and once he was secured in a harness with an attached rope system, he was lowered down off the precipice to an area where his injuries could be assessed, which Cashin said turned out to be relatively minor.

“The man’s injury to his leg was enough to cause him enough pain where he was limping, but there did not appear to be a fracture or any serious injury,” Cashin said.

Rescue teams guided the man out of the reserve and reached the incident command post shortly after 9 p.m.

Before the group parted ways, Cashin said, the hiker requested a list of the rescuers’ names “so that he could personally thank them for finding him and getting him out of there in one piece.”

As the weather warms up and people start heading out more frequently, Cashin recommended bringing plenty of water, food and warm clothing before setting out for a day of hiking. It may be sunny and clear at the beginning of the hike, he said, but similar to what happened Tuesday, it is easy to get caught off guard when rain showers or a storm hits.

“Regardless of how nice the weather is when you start out, it can turn ugly very quickly,” he said.

Both rescues Tuesday required the efforts of multiple agencies, as is the case with nearly all rescue operations.

“It’s because of search teams, ground crews, the Life Flight crew, police and fire,” Cashin said. “That is why we have these positive outcomes where the lost are found and everyone comes out safe. … Without them we couldn’t do what we do.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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