Arizona Department of Public Safety officers saved a dehydrated hiker from the brink of death this week when a DPS chopper located the man near Payson and flew him from his campground to safety, authorities said.
The 58-year-old Tucson man was alone on a 10-day hiking trip when he got lost and ran out of food and water. He had nothing to eat or drink for about three days before DPS officers found him early Tuesday, the department said.
The hiker, whose name authorities would not disclose, was released from the hospital Wednesday, but DPS said he will be re-evaluated in about a week to make sure he is recovering OK.
According to officials, the hiker's wife called DPS after she stopped receiving texts from her husband.
Search and rescue workers discovered the hiker at about 7 a.m. Tuesday — less than an hour after beginning their search — after spotting his backpack and sleeping bag on the ground roughly one-tenth of a mile off the Arizona Trail, which spans 800 miles across the Arizona from Mexico to Utah.
Chris Hecht, a DPS paramedic who helped the hiker, told reporters on Wednesday that they found him 800 feet down in a canyon. Hecht said the hiker may have ventured toward the bottom of the canyon, which had more vegetation, in search of water. Had he been further down in the canyon, the DPS crew might not have been able to spot him from the air, Hecht said.
The hiker didn't have the strength to even look at the helicopter when rescuers found him, a result of more than three days without food or water in triple-digit heat, officials said. Paramedics gave him three liters of fluid before they got him off the ground around 10 a.m.
Ken Twigg, a DPS pilot with 10 years experience, said he has to be aware of many elements, like wind, temperature, and elevation, to accomplish a safe rescue in mountainous terrain.
“It went like clockwork considering some of the difficulties we had,” Twigg said.
The most dangerous part of a rescue is take off and landing, Twigg said. During transport, the hiker was hanging by a tether about 150 feet below the helicopter as it flew about 40 mph.
Twigg said he flew the man six miles to the northeast, where search-and-rescue volunteers and the deputies from the Gila County Sheriff's Office were waiting with an ambulance to take the hiker to a Payson hospital.
We're glad he survived. But would you have?
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