Pima County Sheriff Search and Rescue and Air Units
On July 23, 2017 at approximately 5:30 p.m. members of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue Unit responded to the Tanque Verde Falls area report of a four-year-old child and a male subject stranded on a rock in the center of the upper falls.
Tanque Verde Falls had just experienced a flash flood, putting several hikers in immediate danger and need of assistance. The depth and the speed of the water in this flash flood was unlike any that this area had experienced in many years. Search and Rescue Deputy Brian Boll and Deputy Robert Raterink requested and coordinated the response of several resources to include: Sheriff One, SARA, and the Rural Metro Fire Department.
When Deputy Boll arrived to the scene, he urgently hiked to a position where he could see the upper falls. Deputy Boll saw that the four-year-old child was sitting on top of the male subject’s shoulders, as it was the only place of safety in this life-threatening situation. Although they were using a large boulder as an eddy, they were in imminent danger in the middle of the flooded river. Deputy Boll also observed another male subject on top of a boulder pushing further downstream.
Sheriff One flew overhead and quickly spotted the subjects who were in immediate danger. On-board Sheriff One was Milt Kennedy, crew chief T.J. Price, and rescue deputy Steve West. T.J. Price was able to lower Deputy West down to the only location where he could effectively conduct the rescue.
During this time Milt Kennedy kept the helicopter in a steady hovering position. Deputy West put the child in a cinch collar, but was concerned that the collar would not wrap tightly enough around the child and that the child would slip out of it. Deputy West then grabbed a hold of the child and held him closely as T.J. Price hoisted them both up to Sheriff One.
After the child was secured, the crew on-board Sheriff One returned to rescue the adult male, who was now standing in the water, unable to move. Sheriff One also rescued the third subject, who was stranded on the rock, and an additional eight hikers who were stranded on the south side of the canyon.
During the rescue of the eleven hikers, SARA members deployed as upstream and downstream spotters, ran communications, supported landing zone operations, and assisted in gathering information from rescued hikers. SARA developed critical information of more hikers who were stranded in Tanque Verde Falls.
This information supported a 9-1-1 call received from a male subject identified as Noah Shawl, who stated he was by the waterfall. Deputy Raterink ran incident command and, with the assistance of Deputy Boll, developed a plan to identify where these hikers were located. The Sheriff’s Department fixed wing Woodworth, who was the tactical flight deputy, flew the scene and was able to identify three groups of hikers and their locations.
After further investigation was done at incident command, Deputy Raterink was able to determine and confirm that the only people that needed to be rescued were the six hikers that Survey One reported. They were eventually rescued and brought to safety, with the help of Sheriff One and SARA volunteers.
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