On April 25, 2011, around 1 PM, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by a Mr. Greg Cain who reported that his 41-year-old wife, Amber, and 8-year-old son, Nathan, were missing. The family had been camping on Mingus Mountain near Forest Road 413. Greg indicated he had last seen them about 2 hours prior. He searched the area before calling, but could not locate either his wife or child. The Cain family is from Pennsylvania.
A YCSO Forest Patrol Supervisor began coordinating search and rescue efforts involving the Quad, Search Dog, and Back Country Units from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Response Team (YCSRT). Additionally, the YCSO Jeep Posse, Verde Search and Rescue (VSAR) Team, DPS Ranger helicopter, and a helicopter crew provided by Guidance Helicopter in Prescott were notified and responded.
Just after 5:15 PM, the DPS Ranger crew located the missing pair during a flyover. They were well beyond a mile from the camping area. Due to the terrain, the helicopter was unable to land. The Ranger crew provided GPS coordinates to base camp staff and a team from Verde SAR was able to find the pair and escort them to safety. The Cain’s arrived at base camp around 6:30 PM.
Search and rescue personnel learned that mom and son originally left the campsite without notifying anyone. They did not carry a cell phone, food, or water and were only wearing light clothing. After losing their way during an attempt to find the original trail, mom made the smart decision to locate an open space and remain stationary. The helicopter crew eventually spotted a red shirt worn by the Nathan and directed personnel to their location. The pair had been wearing dark clothing which was difficult to see from the air until the boy removed his jacket to reveal the red shirt. Both had made a small sign out of sticks reading “help” and “911,” but it could not be seen from the air.
Nathan and his mom were in good condition. Because a child was also missing, the search was intensified with nearly 40 personnel involved in the coordinated effort. Due to the 7400 foot elevation, it was critical to find the missing couple as the temperature was soon to drop dramatically with sunset.
Lessons – Please remember that a cell phone could be the lifeline to your rescue since most provide GPS coordinates which can be transmitted to search teams. As in this case, if you become lost in the outdoors, stay in one place and let rescue teams come to you. If you are not familiar with the hiking area, avoid off trail exploring. And of course, always carry water.