AZ deputies search for snowbound hunters

December 10, 2009 2:29:29 PM PST
Searchers fanned out across a wide swath of Northern Arizona on Thursday in an effort to reach more than a dozen hunters stranded in deep snow and freezing temperatures. Authorities said the hunters got caught in a powerful storm that dropped 2 to 3 feet of snow Monday and Tuesday with wind gusts of up 78 mph.

Coconino County sheriff's spokesman Gerry Blair said no injuries have been reported. The priority is to retrieve hunters who might be low on food and heating fuel, and get to them before the next storm hits, possibly this weekend, Blair said.

Searchers Thursday afternoon were looking for 16 people in five hunting parties. They were checking known camps where the elk hunters might be based and looking for any signs of distress. Cell phone coverage can be spotty in some areas.

Searchers already had rescued about 50 people. Authorities expected to get more calls as the elk season drew to and end Thursday.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 permits were issued for the latest nearly weeklong hunt, said Shelly Shepherd, a spokeswoman for the state Game and Fish Department.

Many hunters are well equipped for long trips, with propane, generators, days worth of food, all-terrain and four-wheel drive vehicles, and camping trailers, Shepherd said.

"They do come prepared and do come with supplies, (but) it's hard to say how much they brought," she said.

Searchers from the sheriff's office, Game and Fish, the Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Forest Service were using snowmobiles, helicopters and planes to locate the hunters scattered across the region. Hunters have tried to dig themselves out of the snow, but some roads are impassable, Blair said.

One hunter died Monday night when wind gusts sent a pine tree crashing down on his tent as he slept. Blair said those who have been rescued are cold and hungry but have not had any major medical issues.

Blair said search and rescue missions are typical following a winter storm, but it's unusual for have so many active missions at one time.

"The storm just hit when everyone was out in the field," he said.


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