Local search and rescue team believes remains in Superstitions may be missing Utah man

January 17, 2011

APACHE JUNCTION, AZ – A local search and rescue team believes skeletal remains found in the Superstition Mountains over the weekend may be those of a missing Utah man.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jeff Sprong said the office was contacted around 12:45 p.m. Saturday by a subject who reported finding possible human skeletal remains.

Sprong said the person told them it is one person and possibly the third hiker from the group that went missing last July.

The volunteer group Superstition Search and Rescue said they made the discovery.

Members of their team tell ABC15 since July they’ve been searching for the men two to four times a week.

Their biggest challenge was that they had little information.

Sixty-six-year-old Ardean Charles, 51-year-old Malcom Meeks and 49-year-old Kurtis Merworth apparently told family members they were coming to Arizona to find the Lost Dutchman’s gold, believed to be hidden in the mountains. Two of the three men were said to have medical conditions.

The men didn’t have cell phones, family members didn’t know what they were wearing and members of Superstition Search and Rescue say treasure hunters usually venture off trail.

Roger Barrientos, the group’s Wilderness Director, said the third man was found under a desert shrub, perhaps to shield himself from the sun. The week the men went missing it was above 100 degrees.

Barrientos moved to Queen Creek as a child in the 1950s to pick cotton by hand. He doesn’t want to brag, but says he was a good cotton picker. Now he owns his own alfalfa farm.

Barrientos also works hard on his free time, trekking through the rough desert terrain to find missing people with Superstition Search and Rescue.

“My second job doesn’t pay, what it does pay is in the success of helping families find their loved ones, in some cases find closure.”

His reward, he says, is helping people.

The team is trained by the state and include experts in different kinds of rescue to include swift water rescue.

In the case of the missing treasure hunters, Barrientos said they searched the area one grid at a time.

As they expanded their search, the mission was even more difficult because they would have to hike about four hours in just to get to the last point where they had stopped looking.

Sprong said the remains found Saturday will most likely be turned over to the medical examiner’s office for identification.

Authorities said identification of two sets of remains found last weekend may come as early as next week.

If you would like to donate to the nonprofit Superstition Search and Rescue or need their services, visit www.superstition-sar.org . Their emergency number is 480-784-8536.