Searchers comb Gemini Bridges
A 15-year-old Boy Scout from northern Utah is lucky to be alive after getting lost and spending a hot afternoon and night in the Gemini Bridges area alone after going missing from the group he was with. He was reportedly without water for 16 hours.
Last Friday afternoon, Aug. 3, Grand County emergency personnel received a report that Kyler Wood had become separated from his group while mountain biking. Shortly after the report was called into dispatch, an outpouring of searchers worked into the night and resumed their search at dawn the next day.
Wood, who is from Vineyard, Utah, had last been seen mountain biking 45 minutes prior to being reported missing at 2:50 p.m. According to a press release from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, he did not have water with him, and was wearing just a tee-shirt and shorts. The sheriff’s office, Grand County Search and Rescue, National Park Service personnel, and helicopters from the Department of Public Safety and Classic Air Medical all responded, for a total of about 20 searchers, the sheriff’s office said.
Wood was found by a DPS helicopter on Saturday morning before 7 a.m. and flown to the command post that had been set up on Gemini Bridges Road. He was in good condition, but for good measure was examined by Grand County Emergency Medical Services, according to the sheriff’s office.
On Friday evening as searchers were looking for the teen, members of Wood’s family took to social media to plead for help. “Anyone who can help try to find him, please,” said Deb Hawkes, Wood’s aunt. During the search, the youth’s worried father, Trevon Wood, issued this statement on Facebook: “Thank you everyone who is assisting in looking for my son. Our family is very appreciative and hope that we can find him.” While the search was underway, another person commented, “This is heart-breaking. Who was his buddy? This should never happen. Very sad.”
When news broke early the next day that the lost biker was found, numerous comments of concern and gratitude were made. “I may not know you, Trevon,” Adam Lennon wrote, “but I sure have been thinking about you and your son. Woke up first thing this morning to check. So happy for the good news. What a relief for you and your family.” Another person commented, “Huge sigh of relief! I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about him out in the elements. Yay!”
Busiest team in the state
In an area that’s become world-renowned for extreme action sports, Grand County Search and Rescue members have their hands full with emergency calls. Incidents range from distressed boaters on the Colorado River to jeep rollovers on Hell’s Revenge to BASE jump incidents in rural areas. Despite the exciting activities that surround Moab, the most common call in the summer is for overdue, lost or dehydrated hikers.
GCSAR is the busiest rescue team in the State of Utah. In 2017 GCSAR received 132 distress calls. In comparison, Utah County Search and Rescue, the second busiest SAR located in Provo and surrounding area, received 90 calls.
The number of incidents in 2018 originally started at a much faster pace than the previous year. As of August, GCSAR has received about 76 distress calls, according to GCSAR Commander Jim Webster. “We are very close to last year’s pace,” said Webster, noting that in 2017, GCSAR reached 76 calls on Aug. 16.
From 1996 to 2004 the average number of SAR incidents per year totaled to 73. In 2005, the number of calls spiked to 104 and hasn’t gone below 90 since. The year 2016 had the most incidents yet, at 155. “Search and Rescue in Moab started out purely as a volunteer organization with fewer calls and less visitors,” explained Melissa Nerone, a member of GCSAR since 2005. “I believe we had one set of rangers, a couple of boats and a set of ATVs.” As the visitor numbers went up so did the emergency calls and the amount of technical equipment needed to successfully execute rescues. “In the early days, more time was spent searching for people because cell coverage was less. Dispatch can now get coordinates from 911 calls so we don’t need to come into rescues from both the top and the bottom,” said Nerone.
Grand County fosters a diverse spectrum of environments with possible rescue scenarios in the desert, mountains, canyons and rivers. At the Emergency Operations Center, the warehouse is prepared with equipment for any of it. Their fleet includes a jet boat, a J-Rig, snowmobiles, UTVs, ATVs, Polaris machines, pontoon crafts, jet skis and more. The Ranger is the most popularly used vehicle by GCSAR for its off-roading capabilities.
GCSAR has four different operation units: a 4WD/ATV unit, river unit, technical rope rescue unit and winter rescue unit. Each member of the GCSAR team brings in a specialty skill set that can help in specific rescue situations. “Because I’m a mountain biker, I feel confident about the mountain bike trails. I feel most helpful there,” explained Nerone. Mike Coronella, a GCSAR member since 2004, is an experienced backcountry skier with an EMT certification. “I am qualified to help others with the skills I have,” said Coronella. Current trainee, Logan Tease, is a canyoneering and climbing guide.
Webster explained what it takes to become a member. “Those interested should attend meetings – which is also training. After several meetings we sign them up as a volunteer for search and rescue and work on a year-long training program, in which they go out on calls and learn from experienced members,” Webster said. “Everyone gets exposed to different operations and training. Once they become a full member, they become paid and become a part-time county employee.”
When there is a need for SAR, a page goes out to the members, and those available come to the EOC warehouse. “In search and rescue situations we often work with emergency medical technicians. They do medical, we do the evacuation,” said Webster, who previously worked on SAR for the National Park Service. The National Park Service has its own search and rescue teams and only call GCSAR if needed.
“We have volunteer meetings twice a month,” said Nadi Ardalan, technical rope rescue captain and GCSAR member since 2001. “We want our volunteers to be trained and competent from litter carry-outs to ground searches to boat operations and more.” The last GCSAR meeting was held at Sand Flats Recreation Area, where trainees practiced driving off-road ATVs, GPS coordination, trail familiarization, navigation and field communication. Future meetings will focus on topics such as technical rope rescue, night tracking and winter operations.
“I joined because I was retired and was looking for a purpose,” explained Craig Sanchez, a member of GCSAR for a year and a half. “I found it with search and rescue. It’s purposeful, serves the community, is exciting, and you learn a lot. I would encourage anyone to join.”