ST. GEORGE — With the chance of flash flooding putting hikers at risk on Friday, a sign was posted at a trailhead in Zion National Park: The Narrows Trail was closed. But some already had begun their trek, and inside the carved canyon walls, there was no cell signal. When the waters rushed in, hikers had to rely on one another until help arrived.
In an email to St. George News, Carmen Hendrick said she and her husband, Nathan Hendrick, were hiking The Narrows on Friday and while they hadn’t seen the sign that warned hikers of the trail’s closure, she was sure it was posted before they received an alert on their phones.
But not everyone received an alert, she said, as they were already within the canyon’s walls when the flooding started.
“Several were swept away, but some were pulled out quickly,” she said, adding that park rangers had not yet arrived, and there was no way to alert them when one woman was caught in the flow and moved a “1/2 mile or more.”
The woman sent an email to St. George News identifying herself as Amy Watson.
Nathan Hendrick said he saw Watson swept up in the deluge and knew the best way to rescue her was to “beat the river by running on foot to the low points.” The man and his son tried once but could not reach her and began screaming for help. Carmen Hendrick said a girl yelled to form a chain.
Watson said she watched Nathan Hendrick run down the river with huge eyes and a look of determination on his face.
“I knew he wasn’t going to give up on me,” she said. “Makes me cry just thinking of it. That’s why he is a hero.”
Four individuals, including Nathan Hendrick, formed a chain but only “grazed her fingers,” after which, the man ran to another low point in the river, yelling again to form a chain. Eight “complete strangers” joined him and successfully pulled Watson to the shore, Carmen Hendrick said.
“It was scary,” she said. “The chain could’ve failed. The guy at the front of it was up to his neck in raging water, but they were able to pull her to safety.”
She said she did not know Watson’s condition but as she was “very scratched up and hurting.” An intensive care unit nurse on the scene evaluated her and another woman held her hand, “keeping her calm.”
Shortly after Watson was pulled ashore, park rangers arrived. Her son was alone, stranded across the river on high ground. The rangers rescued him and several others, she said.
St. George News reported Saturday that the woman was transported to the hospital by a National Park Service ambulance. Additionally, Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team and Hurricane Valley Fire and Rescue assisted rangers. Personnel from each organization were stage along the Virgin River to watch for visitors taken by the flood.
The Park Service continues to search for Jetal Agnihotri of Tucson, Arizona, who was reported missing after hiking in the Narrows on Friday, St. George News reported. The Narrows and Riverside Walk remain closed as the Zion Search and Rescue team conducts searches for the missing woman, according to the park’s Twitter feed.
Carmen Hendrick said other bystanders helped rescue individuals in need but added that she didn’t know their stories. She said she appreciates all the park and rangers “do daily and did yesterday and through the night.”
“But there were more heroes yesterday than (is) being reported,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many did nothing, but so many others jumped into action … It was scary (and) sad but pulling together for a stranger was also beautiful.”
Watson said she hopes to contact Nathan Hendrick to thank him.
“He is my hero (and) I am so appreciative to him,” she said.
‘Plan ahead and be prepared’
According to Zion National Park’s website, The Narrows are susceptible to flash flooding.
“Much of the surrounding area is bare rock that does not absorb water,” the site states. “During storms, runoff is funneled rapidly into the Narrows. During a flash flood, the water level rises almost instantly – within seconds or minutes. Flash floods are common in Zion and hikers have been stranded, injured, and even killed by venturing into narrow, flood-prone canyons.”
Zion National Park officials remind visitors on its website to “plan ahead and be prepared.” Flash floods are often caused by storms miles away and can be life-threatening, it states. Hikers should check the weather and monitor for flash flood warnings before their trip. If adverse weather conditions are predicted, slot canyons should be avoided.
The park suggests hikers watch for potential warning signs of flash floods, including a deterioration in weather conditions, clouds or thunder, sudden changes in water clarity, floating debris and an increasing sound of water roaring up the canyon. If any of these signs are observed, the site states hikers should immediately seek higher ground as “even climbing a few feet may save your life.”
“Remain on high ground until conditions improve,” the site states. “Water levels usually drop within 24 hours. Despite the forecast, flooding is possible at any time, and floods have occurred on days they were not expected. A possible or probable flash flood potential should be a serious cause for concern.”
To see the Virgin River’s current flow click here. Find National Weather Service flash flood warnings here and weather forecasts here.
St. George News reporter Mori Kessler contributed to this story.
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