Authorities search for Pine-Strawberry Fire Chief  gone missing during 51-mile hike

Pine Strawberry Fire Chief Gary Morris 

GILA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- It's a happy ending to a story that might have had a grim outcome.

The Pine-Strawberry fire chief who went missing after a extended hike has been found safe and sound. 

[VIDEO: Missing fire chief found safe]

Chief Gary Morris, 73, was reported missing at about 9:30 Tuesday morning.

He had gone off on a four-day, 51-mile hike -- by himself.

According to the Pine-Strawberry Fire District, he was almost 12 hours past the time he was supposed to be picked up at that point in the Doll Baby area in the Mazatzal wilderness near Payson.

So what went wrong? Morris tells us his new routing software took him down the wrong path, and he was out of cell phone range.

"I bought a new software program for routing and it routed me into a dead-end canyon, so I spent the night and decided to hike out today," Morris says. "I got to a peak where I could get a text out and here we are."

The Pine-Strawberry Fire Department says Morris is an experienced hiker, calling his latest adventure along the Arizona Trail "one of his typical 'alone time' hikes that he loves to take." 

Until Morris failed to make contact, there was no reason to believe he was in trouble.

"His last communication expressed that he was on schedule for his pick-up," according to a PSFD statement sent to Arizona's Family. "He indicated that he would call when he made it to the end of the trail."

But that call didn't come, and the search for Morris got underway.

Finally, on Wednesday at around 3 p.m., the Gila County Sheriff's Officer Search and Rescue crew got a text from Morris. 

They called him back to ask him to call 911 for a GPS location. When Morris' location was known, DPS was able to find him. 

A DPS helicopter called in to airlift Morris out of the wilderness

He was checked out by medical crews, but thankfully, he didn't suffer any serious injuries.

In fact, when our AZ Family crew caught up to him, he was all smiles! 

Morris assured us that he had plenty of supplies to get him through until he could let rescuers know where he was.

"When you prepare for a trip and all the possibilities, you pack with you for those possibilities," he said. "The outcome is usually pretty good, and today was a good outcome, even though I got lost.

Morris told us that his ordeal will not deter him from future hikes. Instead, he said he's ready to get back to the trails!

"Here I am feeling good, and I could hike some more tonight," he told us.

But first, he said he was ready for some well-deserved relaxation.

"I’m gonna go home to the hot tub," he said.

Morris is fire chief for the Pine-Strawberry Fire District and a member of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue.


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