YCSO rescues Phoenix canoeists on Verde River

CHILDS -- Monday about 2 p.m., the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office got a distress call from man who said that his father, 55-year-old Thomas Bennett from Phoenix, was in trouble in the wilderness.

Bennett was with a 56-year-old friend, canoeing on the Verde River. Bennett had been checking in using a personal locater device that allowed his son to track progress by GPS. Just before he called the SO, his father activated the "SOS" button twice on the personal locator. Thomas' son provided "SOS" GPS coordinates to the YCSO Forest Patrol deputy who determined the pair was now hiking up Fossil Creek Canyon from where Fossil Creek and the Verde River converge, southeast of Camp Verde.

Bennett's son also received a message from his dad that their canoe had been damaged and the pair was intending to reach the Child's Campground by land. The Forest Patrol deputy started toward their last known location, but also requested assistance from YCSO's helicopter crew flying "Rescue 1," as the deputy knew this area was very remote and not accessible by vehicle.

The deputy arrived in the search target area around 4:30 p.m. and saw Rescue 1 already overhead. After receiving updated GPS coordinates, Rescue 1 located the stranded victims in a canyon near Fossil Creek. A crewmember from Rescue 1 was able to lower a walkie-talkie and emergency supplies to the victims, who indicated they were in good condition but unable to hike further.

To expedite the rescue of the victims, deputies requested a DPS Ranger Helicopter with the intent of airlifting the men to safety. In the meantime, Rescue 1 was directed to fly back to Prescott Airport and pick-up a member of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office Response Team (YCSRT), Backcountry Unit, to assist with a technical rope rescue if necessary.

The DPS Ranger pilot found a safe place to land near the victims and one of the medics was able to hike to the stranded men just after 8 p.m. The medic escorted both men back to the helicopter and they were flown to meet deputies and worried family members.

The victims told deputies their canoe became disabled and they were attempting a hike to the Child's Campground to rest and seek assistance, they mistook the Verde River for Fossil Creek and became lost. At one point, Bennett was unable to hike further due to chest pains and pressed the "SOS" button on the personal locater.

DPS medics treated and released the gentleman.

The personal locator device was a key factor in the successful rescue. Most of these devices communicate by satellite and have the ability to maintain a signal in areas where cell phones cannot.

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