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Search and Rescue Participates in Rescue Rodeo

Members were ‘voluntary victims’

Members of Superstition Search and Rescue (SSAR) participated as “voluntary victims” in the seventh annual multi-agency “Swift Water Rescue Rodeo” sponsored by the Aviation Unit of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona Hiking Shack on Saturday, June 6.

The competitive training event was held on the lower Salt River at Saguaro Lake Ranch in memory of fallen DPS Officer Bruce Harrolle, who was killed while assisting in the search and rescue of two stranded hikers in October 2008.

The rodeo provided an opportunity for teams from law enforcement, public safety agencies and clubs, who participate in swift water activities, to hone their skills while engaging in controlled swift water rescue situations with other teams from across the state.

There was no charge for the training event which was supported by APS, Northwest River Supply, John C. Lincoln Hospital, Arizona Hiking Shack, Saguaro Lake Ranch and the many volunteers who unselfishly gave of their time to support the event.

The rescue rodeo was held prior to the Arizona monsoon season, which can cause swift water situations to develop very quickly. Swift water rescues can be extremely dangerous for both victim and rescuer alike and many people are killed or injured while attempting to cross flooded roads, washes or areas of fast moving water.

SSAR has the only swift water rescue team in the county and holds the highest certifications. They participated in the rodeo event as “voluntary victims” in competitive scenarios created to resemble swift water rescue situations, which included Throw Bag and Tethered Strong Swimmer; Shallow Water Crossing; Boat Handling; Kayak Relay; Tethered Boat; Swimming Relay; and Tension Diagonal.

“Pinal County needs a multi-agency, mutual-aid team to be effectively responsive on a county wide basis,” said SSAR Commander Robert Cooper, who explained that SSAR alone cannot provide adequate response times to serve the entire Pinal County area.

Cooper would like to see fire and police agencies from cities across the county become interested in developing swift water rescue teams. These teams in turn, could respond to emergency situations across the county on a timely basis and work in cooperation with the Pinal County Office of Emergency Management.

SSAR is a nonprofit, volunteer service organization that is affiliated with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. The volunteer members of SSAR are highly trained in various wilderness rescue techniques and provide wilderness related search and rescue assistance to individuals who find themselves lost or injured in the Superstition Wilderness.

SSAR is funded solely by donations from community members, businesses and other entities that value their life-saving services. All donations are tax deductible and provide the group with valuable equipment and resources necessary to save lives, no matter what the amount. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to SSAR please visit its Web site at or you can send your donation to Superstition Search and Rescue, P.O. Box 1123, Apache Junction, AZ 85217.

Two Rescued From Superstitions

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
The News

A 72-year-old Gold Canyon man and his nephew were rescued from the Superstition Wilderness Thursday, September 25, after losing their way during a 13-mile hike from the Peralta Trailhead.

Superstition Search and Rescue members Richard Carpenter and Bruce Horken located Guenter Cohn and Mathew Cohn, who began their hike at 8 a.m. Wednesday, September 24, on the trail west of Weavers Needle.

The two were out of water, lost, dehydrated and exhausted, said Robert Cooper of Superstition Search and Rescue. After hydrating and assessing their condition, Superstition Search and Rescue called for an air extract because the Cohns were “very weak and still five miles from completing their journey,” Cooper said.

“What they did right was they informed family of their plan and, once lost, stayed and slept on the trail,” Cooper said.

“What they did wrong was not being prepared for the extended stay. Even the best plans can go bad. They had no light source or fire-making goods. The helicopter could have found them right away in the night if they had.”

According to Cooper, the Cohns had a map, GPS, a knife and 10 liters of water before starting the hike. “With the cool mornings and afternoon hot temps they quickly ran out of water. Once they were out of water, Guenter began eating the prickly pear fruit but couldn’t get Mathew to.” Maricopa Search and Rescue also aided in the search and rescue.

The Superstition Wilderness has approximately 50 trails with many intersections and is 242 square miles.

Wilderness Hiking Tips
Make a plan and tell someone.
Never hike alone
Water – a gallon a day
Map of area
Compass or GPS
Matches/fire starter
Extra food
Extra clothing
First Aid Kit
Signaling device
Body protection items
Survival items

Superstition Search and Rescue Inspires ‘Rock the Boat’

By Julie Baker
The Art Institute of Phoenix
Advertising Major

You are at Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by loved ones and enchanted with the mouth-watering aroma of succulent turkey, sweet potatoes and warm apple pie. Your pager abruptly interrupts the evening. Immediately you begin a two-hour travel to save someone’s life.

This story is not about a superhero. This story is about regular men and women with superhero hearts.

The Superstition Search and Rescue team is a volunteer service organization affiliated with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Florence, Arizona. The purpose of the non-profit group is to assist individuals who experience wilderness-related problems such as: injuries, being lost, an excess of heat or cold exposure.

Robert Cooper has been actively volunteering for 14 years. “It’s a lifestyle. You must have very understanding spouses and bosses. The majority of the people that join say it is all worth it,” shares Cooper.

The time donated is immense. Not only must they travel far to reach the victims, they must constantly attend rigorous trainings to stay in top shape and up to date. They are only reimbursed for the gas they use to commute to the victims. They are not completely funded for costs of equipment and certainly not their time.

Through the ‘Rock the Boat’ project, the proceeds made from the auction of the Chris Craft will be donated to Superstition Search and Rescue.

Host, Keith Bennet, explains, “This the foundational story of why the boat is being refurbished.”

For more information on Superstition Search and Rescue go to

Climber clung for life before 80-foot fall

Mary K. Reinhart, Tribune

Emily Decker reached out to grab her boyfriend as he tumbled down the jagged face of the Flatiron in the Superstition Mountains.

“He was about five feet above me and he slipped passed me. We touched hands,” she said.

“I watched him fall… I keep seeing the image in my head.”

John Wilkinson bounced off a ledge then landed flat on his face in a thicket of brittlebush 80 feet below. He lay still and Decker clung to the cliff face, sobbing, certain that he was dead.

But after a few moments, he started to move. Then, miraculously, the 19-year-old Texan rose to his feet, blood streaming from gashes on his face, arms and chest.

He pulled out a cell phone and called 911, though he doesn’t remember doing it, while Decker, 24, started to faint.

Wilkinson’s call Saturday afternoon alerted the Superstition Search and Rescue team and launched one of the most daring rescue efforts in the volunteer group’s history.

The nearly 12-hour, 400-foot rescue spotlights the often unheralded work of a dedicated team of trained climbers who risk their lives to help strangers, and pay for their own equipment.

“I don’t see how he lived,” said team commander Robert Cooper. “But he was the easy one.”

Cooper and his team set up a command post at the end of the street where Emily Decker’s family lives. They hiked in about a mile and started to work on Wilkinson.

Once he was stabilized and “packaged” in a rescue basket, team member Mike Wallace hooked himself and the basket to a line dangling 175 feet from a Department of Public Safety helicopter and off they flew.

Wilkinson was then air-evaced to Maricopa Medical Center, where he waited for word about Decker. He would have a long wait.

After she saw her boyfriend fall, Decker started to black out. Then her ears started ringing and the world came back into view. Still clinging to the cliff face, she looked up and saw a tiny ledge. Somehow, she managed to scramble up to it.

“I thought I was going to fall, too,” she said. “I closed my eyes, and I was breathing and I was holding on tight.”

The rescue team started up the way as Decker and Wilkinson, but soon realized it was too dangerous, even for them.

A helicopter rescue was ruled out because of Decker’s location and the possibility that, alone, she might panic and be knocked off her perch. The only choice left was a 400-foot descent.

The DPS helicopter returned and dropped Cooper, technical rescue team leader Mike Mello and three others atop the Flatiron. They fashioned a 600-foot rope system and lowered Mello down.

The sun was setting, the wind was picking up and Decker was worried.

“Finally, Mike appeared above my head. It was the best sight I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Mello leaned against her and helped her into a harness, but still had to coax her off the ledge.

“She was a trooper. But she was a young lady who was scared witless at that point,” he said. “She was just hanging on for dear life… and she was mighty thankful.”

Decker wasn’t sure about the rope system, and didn’t know exactly what she was supposed to do. She took a leap of faith.

“I was so confused. I had to trust him and walk off the ledge,” she said.

The pair rappelled down the 80 feet that Wilkinson had fallen and a profoundly grateful Decker hugged her rescuers. By the time the team hiked out and headed home, it was nearly midnight.

“They saved our lives,” she said, sitting next to Wilkinson in his hospital bed. “They are so amazing. They are the most incredible group of people.”

The Superstition Search and Rescue team is affiliated with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. In the past year, the team has helped nearly 300 people get out of the Superstition Mountains. The roughly 25 members rely on donations and volunteers.

Wilkinson expects to be released from the hospital in a few days. He suffered a bruised lung and got stitches to close gashes along his right eye and chin. He lost about seven teeth, and his chest and arms are covered with broad scrapes. There are more stitches in his knee and results from an X-ray of his right ankle are pending.

“I can’t believe I’m alive,” he said, his right eye swollen shut and his mouth a mass of red and purple. Decker smooths his hair back.

“At least you know I’m tough,” he says to her.

Decker moved to Arizona a few months ago, and Wilkinson was visiting from his home outside Houston. They readily admit that they made several mistakes and hope their experience will help other hikers.

“We didn’t plan anything. We didn’t tell anyone where we were going. We were just setting up for a day hike. We wanted to go to the top. That was our plan,” Decker said.

“We just had no idea of the danger that we were getting into.”

Phoenix New Times Best Mountain Rescue

Superstition Mountains, March 2008

It’s inevitable that a few people end up dead or seriously hurt each year in the Valley’s semi-wild mountain parks, given the crowds those parks attract when the weather’s nice. Fortunately, we have volunteer groups like Superstition Search and Rescue, or its larger cousin, the Central Arizona Mountain Rescue, to keep the body count as low as possible.

Last spring, the Superstition team, affiliated with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, showed off its skills in a dramatic cliff-side rescue on the face of the Flatiron, a prominent prow of rock on the west side of the Superstition Mountains.

TV and newspaper reports made it difficult to know exactly what went wrong. Somehow, after hiking up the steep Siphon Draw Gully trail, Valley newcomer Emily Decker and her boyfriend, Texas resident John Wilkinson, both in their 20s, had found themselves where they should never have been: perched on a near-vertical face of the Flatiron. Wilkinson had fallen 80 feet and was left balancing on a ledge, bruises and cuts all over his body. He had bashed his face so hard, according to reports, that he lost seven teeth. Decker was stranded on another ledge above him, too terrified to move.

With the help of a helicopter, on loan from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, team members lowered a 600-foot rope and plucked the pair safely from the cliff face in a risky effort that took nearly 12 hours and ended just before midnight.

A quote from Decker, in the East Valley Tribune, reveals the underlying problem that leads to most mountain rescues: “We just had no idea of the danger that we were getting into.”

AJ hiker survives 6 days injured in Superstitions

Michael Ferraresi and Steve Yozwiak
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 19, 2007 04:29 PM

Lon McAdam of Apache Junction had hiked in the Superstition Wilderness, often alone, for 32 years without a hitch.

But on the third day of a nine-day trek this month, along a creek bed at the bottom of aptly named Rough Canyon – just after he had scrambled past the worst of the boulders – McAdam slipped.

“It was not like a big tumble. It was just a simple little trip,” he said.

McAdam’s left kneecap cracked against a protruding rock, leaving McAdam unable to walk, helpless and alone in the middle of nowhere, and with no one expecting him back home for six more days.

The 56-year-old building manager for Apache Junction’s Gold Canyon Elementary School had a satellite phone, but it wouldn’t work. During his fall, his water pouch burst, soaking the phone and leaving it dead.

“In 15 minutes, I broke my knee, drenched my phone and pretty much realized I was screwed,” McAdam said.

He had talked to his wife, Toni, earlier that day, letting her know everything was going well.

“My biggest concern was there are bears out there,” said McAdam, recovering this week at a Scottsdale hospital.

He had plenty of food in the wilderness, but no way of hoisting it up to store it in a tree, out of reach of wildlife.

The remote area near the Superstition Mountain’s Reavis Ranch, about 30 miles east of Mesa, was littered with bear scat. McAdam said he knew the bears were close, so he spent much of his time gripping a can of bear repellent and yelling into the woods to frighten any animals away.

At the same time, McAdam knew he needed to get to a spot where a rescue helicopter could spot him in the narrow gorge.

“I was scrambling on my butt for three days,” he said.

Only 100 feet away, he eventually made to a clearing where he set up a large blue tarp with an X on it. Then he waited.

“I knew I’d have to be patient.”

Somehow, McAdam remained calm. He knew someone would eventually come looking for him. As always, he had left a detailed itinerary with Toni.

With his kneecap split in two, McAdam gathered himself, eased through the extreme pain and eventually reached for his camera.

McAdam, a photographer published in Arizona Highways magazine, passed the time doing something he knew well.

He took photos, including some of himself.

McAdam also had plenty of time to think. He thought of Aron Ralston, the Aspen, Colo., man who in 2004 cut off his lower right arm to save his life after an 800-pound boulder pinned him for five days in southern Utah’s Blue John Canyon.

Relatives fear worst

Late on April 15, eight days after McAdam went exploring, Toni was feeling desperate. Her husband had not returned on time.

At daybreak on April 16, Toni called the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. She also called the satellite phone company to get a location of Lon’s last phone call.

“I thought he was dead,” Toni said, tears welling up again at the thought of something terrible happing to Lon.

Lon’s 78-year-old mother, Georgianna McAdam, flew in from Anaheim, Calif. “I’m going to cry. This was so scary,” she said, recalling the uncertainty while Lon was missing.

Helicopter rescue

After six days injured and alone, McAdam saw an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter hovering over Rough Canyon.

He signaled it, reflecting the sun with a small, hand-held mirror. Rescue personnel saw it. McAdam was lifted out with the help of the Pinal sheriff’s Superstition Search and Rescue squad, and within hours Lon was reunited with his family.

Recovering from surgery this week in a hospital bed at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn, McAdam received a surprise visit from Brenda Farris, principal of Gold Canyon Elementary School. Farris carried a giant get-well card, signed by many of the school’s students.

“We told them he broke his knee; kept it in as simple terms as possible,” Farris said.

Will hike again

Reflecting on his ordeal, McAdam said he enjoyed the view of the Superstitions from the rescue chopper. With the unspoiled wilderness below, he realized the trip – despite the “little trip” that nearly killed him – was worth it.

“This was just for the pure adventure and experience,” McAdam said. “I knew I was going to get out.”

And he plans to go back. But next time, he said, he’s bringing a personal locator beacon.