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Sunday, May 31, 2009

SAR Stories Aplenty At Grand Canyon

Living just an hour and a half from the Grand Canyon, I often hear and read about Search & Rescue operations within the Park. Several of our County SAR team members are involved with the park in one capacity or another--volunteer and paid rangers, a helicopter medic, guides--who sometimes assist with missions involving missing, injured, ill or deceased canyon visitors. One even co-authored the book, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, which illustrates that the majority of the deaths have occurred when people failed to pay attention to warning signs or didn't use common sense.

(The guy in that photo is my husband, by the way, but he was just goofing around. But it sure was hot that July afternoon. Still, we saw people coming down the Bright Angel trail carrying no water--nothing in fact--at all.)

Given that Grand Canyon is the second most visited National Park after the Great Smoky Mountains, and the 10th most visited National Park unit, (See: with more than 4 million people coming through the entrance gates annually, it's to be expected there will be a large number of "incidents." Unfortunately, though, Grand Canyon leads the nation when it comes to SAR calls.

Each year, rangers at Grand Canyon National Park perform as many as 300 helicopter rescues, not to mention those carried out on foot, boat or by other technical means. Most of those missions stem from falls and medical issues, the former often from horse-play or the desire for that photo at the edge, and the latter frequently from fatigue, extreme temperatures and underlying conditions exacerbated by the effort of hiking out of the canyon.

According to 2007 statistics, these same factors, along with poor navigational skills and lack of preparedness, lead to nearly 3,600 search and rescue operations in National Parks around the country. According to an article in the May 24th edition of the Arizona Daily Sun, the park service also responds to 16,000 emergency medical calls a year for anything from abrasions and twisted ankles to heat stroke and cardiac arrest. In years past, Grand Canyon has accounted for about 13% of these incidents in the National Park system.

And recent weeks have been as busy as ever for SAR personnel at the Canyon. In late April, a man fell 60 feet when he lost his balance while looking over the edge. Just two days later, two teenagers and a young man were swept away and drowned when they went for a swim in the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch. Then a woman was injured when the mule she was riding fell and rolled over her. Currently, rangers are searching for a hiker who's been missing since May 23rd.

In 2005, Grand Canyon led the National Parks with 307 SAR calls. Next in line was Gateway National Recreation Area in the New York/New Jersey area with 293, and rounding out the top three was Yosemite with 231.

To see the rest of the top ten list, along with the costs associated with these missions, see: Staying Safe and How Not to Become A SAR Statistic in the National Park System

See also: Grand Canyon Search & Rescue media releases

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