Life Flight flies 6 hikers out of Water Canyon during all-night rescue operation

In this 2017 file photo, an Intermountain Life Flight crew assists in the rescue of man near Dixie Sugarloaf, St. George, Utah, July 1, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A group of six hikers was saved during an all-night rescue in Water Canyon over the weekend thanks to a call to 911 from one of the adult children of a couple in the group, search teams that scoured the area and a Life Flight crew that made sure everyone got out safe.

At 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Washington County Search and Rescue was called to look for a group of six hikers who were lost in the Water Canyon area, a large mass of BLM land several miles north of Hildale.

Intermountain Life Flight was also launched to provide aerial support.

The call originally came out of Kane County Search and Rescue, which was contacted by emergency dispatch after Kori Leverington, the adult daughter of two of the hikers, did not hear from her parents by a previously scheduled time.

Leverington said her parents are experienced hikers, and the family has always had a plan in place where there was a cutoff time to make contact with the family when one of them was out hiking, which on Saturday was 7 p.m. If that time were to pass without contact, then the next call was to search and rescue, she said.

She called her parents numerous times with no success. So, by 8:30 p.m., she and a family friend decided if they didn’t hear from them by 10 p.m., they would make the call. Less than five minutes later, she received a text saying they were lost, which is when she called emergency dispatch and set the ball rolling.

Since the area where the hikers were likely located was in Washington County, the local rescue program was called in, Washington County Search and Rescue liaison Sgt. Darrell Cashin told St. George News.

Ground teams were assembled and began scouring the rugged terrain in pitch darkness, while authorities were working on pinning accurate GPS coordinates to locate the group, as the first set of coordinates rescuers obtained from one of the hiker’s cell phones was hours earlier, so the coordinates were no longer accurate.

A still photo taken from video captured of Intermountain Life Flight preparing to land after finding lost hikers in Water Canyon in pitch darkness, Washington County, Utah, May 3, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Search and Rescue, St. George News

“We know where the group started out in Kane County and where their intended destination was supposed to be located,” Cashin said. “But, as with most rescues, they ventured off the path so the information we had wasn’t really reliable.”

That turned out to be true in this case, as Leverington soon realized that her parents were off track. It wasn’t until 1 a.m. that she was able to get a more accurate location of the group using the Life360 app, a location-sharing application, information that was provided to authorities.

Meanwhile, the Life Flight crew was also scouring the vast expanse of wilderness from the air when they caught a glimpse of several campfires in the area. But as they flew over one particular campfire, which was surrounded by a group of six individuals who did not appear to have a tent set up or any camping gear, the crew believed they had found the hikers that ground teams were searching for.

Authorities manning the staging area were advised that the group had been located while the helicopter found a safe place to land that was close to where the hikers were located, but still required “quite a bit of hiking by the flight crew,” Cashin said.

That is when Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. David Crouse called Leverington advising that the group was located and that authorities were working on a plan to get them out of the canyon as ground teams continued their trek to where the hikers were stranded.

Shortly thereafter, the helicopter crew advised they could fly the group down off the mountain to the staging area while the ground crew continued toward the canyon in all-terrain vehicles in the event the helicopter was unable to land if the winds kicked up.

The mission entailed three separate trips with the crew flying two hikers at a time, Cashin said, adding that not only did the flight crew make several trips during the incident, but each trip also involved a hike to where the remaining hikers were located and guiding them back to where the helicopter was staged.

Shortly before 3 a.m., Leverington was on the phone with her parents who were safely back at their vehicle, she said.

Stock image, St. George News

Cashin also said he couldn’t give enough accolades to the Life Flight crew for what they did Saturday night, and for the service they provide consistently, “during so many rescues.” He added that finding the group in the middle of the night without them would have been very difficult and may have prevented the night search altogether.

“Many times, we wait until daylight to search because it’s so dangerous to search at night,” he said, “but in this case, we needed to find them quickly because one of the hikers had a medical condition, so that made the rescue all the more urgent.”

He also said the group was prepared, did their research, had maps, compasses and GPS, “but even then, things can go wrong.”

The group was so prepared, in fact, that they brought a survival kit containing Pyro Putty, a waterproof, weather-resistant survival tool that can spark a flame that will burn for about 15 minutes with just a dab the size of a quarter. The putty is what they used to start the campfire that assisted the Life Flight crew in locating them, Stephanie Furnival, Leverington’s mother, told St. George News Thursday.

Furnival said she and her husband brought plenty of provisions for the 11-mile hike, but once one of the hikers became injured, it became more difficult to continue. A total lack of signs to guide the hikers along the trail also made continuing more difficult.

Furnival said she was so glad to hear the helicopter approaching.

That sound was soon followed by the sound of ATVs as the ground crew reached them shortly before they were flown from the canyon, “just to make sure we were okay,” Furnival said.

Rescuers worked throughout the night to get all six hikers back to the staging area and to their vehicles, and by 6 a.m., the teams and the helicopter crew went their separate ways.

Referring to the Life Flight crew, Cashin said, “I just can’t say enough for those guys who fly out and do whatever they can to help us — and have continued to assist with so many rescues over the years.”

Leverington shared similar comments and closed by saying, “Thank you Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue and Intermountain Life Flight for their diligent work.”

She applauded the efforts of Lt. Crouse as well, who remained in contact and worked diligently to see the rescue through.

“We are so very grateful for you,” she said.

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

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