Findings, including cost of rescue, released in Zion National Park missing woman case

In this 2020 file photo, the National Park Service is asking for help to locate Holly Suzanne Courtier who went missing in Zion National Park, Utah, Oct. 6, 2020 | Flier Courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — On Thursday, the National Park Service released the findings of their investigation regarding a hiker who went missing in Zion National Park in October and was subsequently found alive 12 days later.

File photo: A missing poster for Holly Courtier is posted on the bathroom at the Zion National Park Visitor Center, Zion National Park, Utah, Oct. 16, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

“In October 2020, the National Park Service (NPS) led a robust, multi-day search and rescue effort to locate a missing woman at Zion National Park. On October 18, 2020 we located the woman and reunited her with her family thanks to the many rangers, search teams, and community partners, who helped provide support,” a press release issued by Zion National Park said about the release of the findings.

The story of Holly Suzanne Courtier, a 38-year-old mother from Los Angeles, caught national attention and scrutiny after Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Sgt. Darrell Cashin expressed concerns that certain aspects of Courtier’s story were not adding up.

That, coupled with a GoFundMe account set up by Courtier’s daughter three days before Holly Courtier was found, which caused speculation that the account and the disappearance may have been fraudulent, prompted an investigation by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

However, in January, the Washington County Sheriff’s office released the findings of their investigation citing no “evidence of fraud or any other criminal activity associated with the disappearance and subsequent rescue.”

The full findings of the National Park Service’s investigation, though heavily redacted to protect the personal privacy of those involved, contain 21 documents – 136 pages – of maps, unit logs and other information regarding the search and rescue operations of Courtier.

The information was released under the Freedom of Information Act under the rules applying to frequently requested records, the park release said.

Detailed logs of the day-to-day search operations include information about the areas searched, shuttle logs, tips from visitors and how Courtier was ultimately found in a tan hammock near where she was first reported missing at The Grotto picnic area and shuttle stop that also provides access to the popular Angels Landing trailhead.

K-9 officer Zoey from Utah Search Dogs joins in the search for missing woman Holly Suzanne Courtier in Zion National Park, Utah, on Oct. 16, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

One of the more noteworthy findings was an expense log of the cost of the search and rescue operation, which totaled just over $60,000.

The high cost of a search and rescue operation often raises questions by members of the public about who pays for and funds it.

A 2017 St. George News article reported that the funding comes from a mixture of public and private sources, adding that there are rules in place for how the money is spent.

In that same article, however, Cashin said that it’s not important to him who pays for a rescue when a human life is in danger.

I never consider how much it’s going to cost. I don’t care,” he said. “We’re trying to save a human life here and I don’t consider the cost of that.”

Cashin acts as a Search and Rescue liaison for Washington County and his role in the Courtier investigation was as an outside consultant, he said in a previous St. George News report.

Cashin and a few of his most seasoned team members reviewed the information Zion rescuers had compiled throughout their search efforts, which they found to be very thorough, he said.

According to the Zion National Park search and rescue blog found on the park’s website, Zion rangers and search and rescue personnel respond to nearly 250 rescue incidents per year.

The Courtier search and rescue was led by Zion rangers with the help of multiple agencies who contributed equipment, vehicles, search dogs and expertise.

The park press release also thanked the many agencies involved in the operation:

Zion National Park would like to thank Washington County Sheriff’s Office, K-9 Units from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah Search Dogs Search and Rescue Teams, Grand Canyon National Park Emergency Service Team, Bryce Canyon National Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area Park Rangers, and all the staff and volunteers that provided support for this search and rescue effort.

The full results of the findings can be found here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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