Hiker found with extreme hypothermia during rescue near Water Canyon

The Washington County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team responds to a fatal accident in the Dixie National Forest, Utah, Dec. 16, 2015 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Michigan woman was rescued after searchers found her suffering from extreme hypothermia in the remote Canaan Mountain wilderness in the early morning hours Friday.

2016 file photo of a fall reported in the Canaan Mountain Wilderness area Hildale, Utah, July 3, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Hildale/Colorado City Fire Department, St. George News

At 10:30 p.m. Thursday Washington County Search and Rescue was called to look for a 47-year-old woman who was lost in the Water Canyon area, a large mass of BLM land several miles north of Hildale, after the woman’s husband called 911 from Michigan asking for help.

The hiker was visiting the area and started out on a day hike hours before, and with little reception began texting her husband when she became lost, Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin said.

“She wasn’t able to call out because of the spotty cell service where she was at,” Cashin said.

A  ground team was deployed to the area and began searching for the lost hiker while a command post was set up at the Squirrel Canyon trailhead, Cashin said.

Intermountain Life Flight was also launched to provide aerial support.

As ground teams were scouring the rugged terrain in pitch darkness the Life Flight crew caught a glimpse of a tiny light shining from the ground, which turned out to be coming from the hiker’s cellphone.

The pilot searched for a place to land for more than 45 minutes, but the combination of having no safe place to do so and high winds, the helicopter terminated rescue efforts and returned to the helipad in St. George.

Meanwhile, search teams split up as the ground team began hiking toward the location provided by the flight crew while several searchers rode ATV’s along the backside of Water Canyon.

Cashin said the area where the woman was spotted was “one of the most remote areas we’ve ever searched.”

At 3 a.m., after hiking for several hours, the team was able to reach the hiker who was suffering from extreme hypothermia, a condition that occurs when the body temperature drops to dangerous levels and the blood is pumped from the extremities to the body’s vital organs to keep them going. She was no longer able to move her limbs.

She was bundled in four layers of blankets and clothing the team brought with them before carrying her to one of the ATV’s staged nearby.

“Those guys used everything they had, jackets, vests, blankets, anything they could get their hands on and to get her warm,” Cashin said.

Life Flight returned and after landing at a staging area the hiker was loaded into the helicopter where she began to warm up until she was able to move her limbs.

At about 6:30 a.m. the hiker was stable enough to move and was driven by ATV to a vehicle parked at the Squirrel Canyon trailhead.

“One of the rescuers stayed with the hiker for almost two hours until she was able to drive safely,” Cashin said “and then had her follow him to where she needed to go to make sure she made it.”

The incident began Thursday when the woman set out for a short day hike wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt and shorts. Hours later the area was hit by heavy rains followed by a sharp drop in temperature, Cashin said, and with inadequate clothing and very few provisions she had nothing to protect her from the elements. The woman was able to send a text to her husband in Michigan to let him know she was lost.

Soaked by the rain and freezing cold, the hiker hunkered down under a tree to wait for help.

“It’s great that she stayed put, but the inactivity also caused the hypothermia to set in faster,” Cashin said.

Had rescuers not reached her when they did, he said, “I don’t think it’s very likely she would have been found alive.”

Cashin attributes the successful outcome to the efforts of his volunteers who work tirelessly to locate those who are lost, and Intermountain Life Flight that worked so hard to assist.

This report is based on statements from police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact. 

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