MCSO flies injured woman off White Tank Mountain; woman's husband walks down

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by Catherine Holland

3TV continuing coverage

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 6:57 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 19 at 2:54 PM

Map: White Tank Mountain Regional Park

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WADDELL, Ariz. -- Search and rescue crews were called out before dawn Tuesday to help an older couple who spent the night in White Tank Mountain Regional Park after getting lost near the Willow Canyon Trail.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said the call came in at about 5:30 a.m.

An 84-year-old man and his 74-year-old wife got lost after leaving the park near the Willow Canyon Trail  Monday.

"They decided to take a shortcut, but it ended up being a long cut, " Deputy Cornwell said.

The woman fell and suffered minor injuries -- scrapes to her hands and legs.

The MCSO helicopter spotted the couple's car in the parking lot during a routine patrol so they knew somebody probably was in the park.

The couple called 911 Tuesday morning to report that they had gone off the trail and gotten lost.

"Going off-trail a recreational area as rugged as this can be very dangerous," Rural/Metro Fire Department spokesman Colin Williams said. "That's exactly what we saw last night."

Search-and-rescue quickly located the couple with the help of the cell-phone signal, but crews had to wait until the sun came up to help them off the mountain. The helicopter team also needed some special equipment.

Aerial video from the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper showed the couple with members of the search-and-rescue team. They appeared to be in good shape.

By 9 a.m. the rescue chopper was back on scene and the team was doing what it's trained to do.

Bruce Haffner was on hand as the woman, dangling from a long line with a member of the rescue team, was flown down to safety, and 3TV photographer Arnold Espinoza was right there when she landed and was escorted to a waiting ambulance.

Her husband walked down with rescuers.

This kind of rescue is exactly what the MCSO teams trains for throughout the year.

"We train at an extremely high level so that we ensure that our training operations are more challenging than any rescue that we'll ever do," volunteer David Bremson told 3TV's Ryan O'Donnell in October.

MCSO said it responds to about 100 mountain rescues every year.

Williams said Rural/Metro took part in a joint training with MCSO just a couple of week ago.

"That training is almost exactly what we did out here today," he said. "When we train for it, here we are two weeks later executing the exact plan as we trained for."

Paramedics were evaluating the couple at the base of the mountain. It was not immediately clear if they would be transported to a local hospital.

This incident could have had a very different ending. With the warm weather, firefighters know people are going to be spending more time on the mountain trails and urge hikers to be prepared and use caution.

Make sure you're wearing proper clothing and footwear, hydrate before you head out, carry plenty of water and some food, and take a cell phone. Also, stay on the marked trails and make sure somebody knows where you are and when you plan to return.

"What we’re always concerned about is people coming out, not knowing their limitations, expecting too much, becoming dehydrated and then becoming fatigued someplace deep in the preserve where now they’re unable to get themselves out,” Phoenix Fire Capt. Jonathan Jacobs told 3TV's Kim Quintero just last week.

About 45 minutes west of Phoenix, White Tank Mountain Regional Park is the largest regional park in Maricopa County. There are approximately 25 miles of shared-use trails ranging in length from 1 to 8 miles. While some of the hikes are considered easy, the terrain is quite rugged in many areas.

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