By Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, Scott Mascher – Sheriff, Dwight D’Evelyn Media Coordinator,(Pictures by Guidance Aviation)
On Monday, July 11, 2011, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office was notified by a man in Tonopah, AZ, that he had just received a distressed phone text from his friend. The caller identified his friend as Gary Smith, 62, from Phoenix. The text received this past Saturday night read, “If you get this, it’s important you call Yavapai Search and Rescue. I’m stranded on Rd 14A about 8 miles from RD 269.” No other communication from Smith was received since Saturday. According to friends and family, Smith was delivering flowers in the Cave Creek area on Saturday morning shortly before he phoned a friend and said he was going to be late for his next appointment because he was lost on a dirt road. Smith’s friend initially phoned the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to report him missing based on the initial call.
MCSO crews could not locate Smith. YCSO gathered information from Smith’s cell phone carrier which placed Smith’s phone in an area 17 miles northwest of a cell tower in Strawberry, AZ. Smith was last seen driving a tan Ford Explorer. Smith requires a cane to walk.
When YCSO received the report on Monday, it had already been two days since the disappearance of Smith. The YCSO Forest Patrol supervisor immediately organized a Search and Rescue effort utilizing the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Response Team (YCSRT), Yavapai County Jeep Posse, Yavapai County Air Group, and a helicopter provided by Guidance Air, to focus on Forest Road 14A off of Forest Road 269. This is in the Bloody Basin area and the search effort was based on the text information initially provided to Smith’s friend. After extensive search operations, it became apparent that Smith was not in the location he had described.
Refocusing on the cell phone tracking information, SAR personnel were directed to search roads within a 17 mile radius of the cell tower in Strawberry. Utilizing four wheel drive vehicles, quads, and a Guidance helicopter, teams began saturating forest roads north of the Bloody
Basin and approximately 40 miles northeast of the previous search area. During the second operational period, SAR teams worked all night with four wheel drive vehicles and quads.
On the morning of July 12, 2011, at approximately 11:19 AM, a Guidance Helicopter crew, acting as YCSO volunteers, spotted Smith’s vehicle off of Forest Road 16A and was able to set down and hike over to the vehicle. Smith was found “barely alive” according to the pilots. An EMS Helicopter from Native Air was immediately launched and was able to get Smith within 20 minutes as DPS Ranger had an extended arrival time. Smith was treated on scene and transported to John C. Lincoln North Mountain hospital where he was reunited with family. Smith remains in ICU as of this morning. Further details as to his condition were not available. Deputies are attempting to determine factors related to Smith’s travel, timeline, and what may have caused him to lose his way.
Deputies believe Smith mistyped his location, road 14A instead of 16A, in the text to his friend. Fortunately, his cell phone GPS functioned properly and provided our SAR teams with coordinates and a search radius.
YCSO would like to thank the involvement of Guidance Helicopters who provided a critical lifesaving link to Smith. The Robinson R44 helicopter used in this search effort is the same model donated to YCSO and currently being refurbished for use in future YCSO search and rescue efforts.
A clarification from SAR personnel – Smith was found about 2 miles from where his vehicle was located by the helicopter. He was resting underneath an umbrella when located and very dehydrated. He apparently thought at the time, Phoenix was “right around the corner.” Smith remains in ICU in stable condition. Nearly 80 volunteers were involved in this search effort and we are very pleased Smith is expected to recover. dd
Learn more about helicopter training programs