Search and rescue crews save hikers stranded overnight on Maxwell Canyon

Southern Utah

WASHINGTON COUNTY (ABC4 News) – A group of hikers became trapped near Hildale Sunday evening, requiring the overnight assistance of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue.

Washington County Search and Rescue Liaison Sgt. Darrell Cashin told ABC4 News first responders arrived on scene around 7:30 p.m. after learning that five men had hiked 3/4 of the way the cliffside at the back of Maxwell Canyon and couldn’t get back down.

Six family members were originally stranded, but one boy found his way down, calling his parents to alert them of the situation. Eventually, one of the stranded individuals called first responders to alert them of the group’s GPS coordinates, according to authorities.

“Our best option was to send our best high angle guys in to climb it in the middle of the night while another team was sent around the backside towards the Elephant Arch area,” Cashin said, emphasizing that none of the high angle rescuers had climbed the canyon before.

“We started getting a downwind coming out of the canyon, which created more difficulty with temperatures,” he added.

In addition to strong winds, Cashin said the rescuers faced narrow ledges with 100-foot drop-offs while climbing their way up in the dark. The SAR became more complicated when halfway up the hike the original hiker who had found his way down brought his brother and followed the team, hoping to show rescuers where the group was located.

“In their heart, they’re trying to help, but they’re actually complicating our rescue,” Cashin said. “To have untrained people in there who don’t have the proper equipment could potentially lead to a fatality that didn’t need to happen.”

When the rescuers got to the original five men stranded, they decided it was better to take them up and over the canyon rather than trying to bring them back down in the middle of the night. In the meantime, the second crew made contact with one of the high angle rescuers.

“They threw a 200-foot rope over and realized it was still 500 feet off the ground. They decided to continue to work their way up while pulling everyone up and move on to the next ledge towards the top of the canyon,” said Cashin

The SAR team worked through the night, bringing a total of seven men, ages 14 to 27, up and around the canyon and later hiking 1 mile across the top of Canyon Mountain into Water Canyon to be picked up at the bottom.

The group returned home around 7:30 a.m. Monday after spending more than 12 hours in the canyon with temperatures as low as 40 degrees at times, authorities said. Rescuers said a big concern was that the hikers would try to climb down and get hurt.

“They were sitting there for hours and hours, and those thoughts probably go through your mind: We’re almost out of water. It’s dark. It’s cold. The wind’s blowing. What are we going to do?” Cashin said. “The best thing they probably could have down is sit and stay where they were.”

Cashin said temperatures drop drastically when the sun sets, and the group was not dressed appropriately to be stranded, huddling together to stay warm.

“Have a small backpack with extra water, a light source, and at least a light jacket so that if you do get stuck you can take care of yourself long enough for us to get there,” he said.

No one was injured, including the 17 rescuers, according to officials. The incident was the 106th rescue so far in 2019.

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