Search and Rescue news articles
- "I was lied to and treated with disrespect." - April 27, 2013
- Hiker's Body Found in Mtns. - April 19, 2013
- Body of Missing Lost Dutchman Hiker Possibly Found by Superstition Search and Rescue - April 19, 2013
- Body of missing hiker found in Superstitions - April 19, 2013
- Golden Sun R.V. Resort Assists Superstition Search & Rescue - January 30, 2013
- Body of man who hunted legendary 'Lost Dutchman's' gold mine believed found in Arizona mountains - November 29, 2012
- Superstition Search and Rescue Team Finds Human Remains in Same Area Where Missing Gold Prospector's Campsite Was Found in 2009 - November 27, 2012
- 2012 Grand Canyon Clean Up - October 8, 2012
- Jeff Block, buddy Blue are leaving their mark - August 25, 2012
- Missing Ariz. man found dead in truck, police confirm - August 10, 2012
- AJ man and his dog killed in truck crash -- found at bottom of Salt River Canyon by search team - August 8, 2012
- A Deadly Vision - February 28, 2011
- Third body found in Superstitions - January 24, 2011
- Local search and rescue team believes remains in Superstitions may be missing Utah man - January 17, 2011
- 2010 Review - January 1, 2011
- Moonlight hike held for FBI - November 4, 2010
- Missing Man Found Dead - October 18, 2010
- 20th Annual Grand Canyon Clean Up - October 17, 2010
- SSAR Receives CERT Training - July 19, 2010
- SSAR Expands Services to Include Urban Rescue - January 14, 2010
- SSAR Delivers - January 5, 2010
- SSAR Finds Body in San Tan Valley Canal - January 3, 2010
- Search and Rescue Receives State Commendation - December 6, 2009
- Second Rescue in SSAR's Final Days with County - November 29, 2009
- Injured Woman Rescued From Cliff - November 25, 2009
- Superstition Mountain Rescue - October 26, 2009
- SSAR Will Not Join Sheriff's Posse - October 16, 2009
- Search and Rescue Participates in Rescue Rodeo - June 15, 2009
- Two Rescued From Superstitions - September 29, 2008
- Superstition Search and Rescue Inspires 'Rock the Boat' - September 10, 2008
- Climber clung for life before 80-foot fall - March 15, 2008
- Phoenix New Times Best Mountain Rescue - March 01, 2008
- AJ hiker survives 6 days injured in Superstitions - April 19, 2007
- SSAR is First Recipient of the Lacy-Conner Peterson Grant - May 22, 2006
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."
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