Public Safety helicopter on pace to conduct more search and rescue missions than last year

Mar 21, 2023, 3:35 PM

The Utah Department of Public Safety has already conducted 200 search and rescue missions this year...

The Utah Department of Public Safety has already conducted 200 search and rescue missions this year — well on pace to eclipse last year's total. The Utah Department of Public Safety has already conducted 200 search and rescue missions this year — well on pace to eclipse last year's total. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

MAPLE CANYON, Sanpete County — The slot canyons found throughout central and southern Utah are a top tourist attraction for people looking to take in the state’s immense natural beauty, but they can also pose as a serious danger for those venturing in and around them.

The Utah Department of Public Safety last week rescued Washington City Police Department Sgt. Brad Coleman from a slot canyon in Washington County after he was stranded in the canyon for 15 to 20 hours.

Then, on Saturday, the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of four hikers who were suspected to be lost in the Box Canyon area of Maple Canyon.

According to a release from the sheriff’s office, deputies were eventually able to locate the vehicle of someone in the hiking group before Sanpete Search and Rescue was dispatched and attempted to locate the hikers by GPS location.

“Due to the terrain an exact GPS location was not available; however, based on the location of the vehicle it was believed the party was in the Box Canyon area,” said a release from the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office.

A Department of Public Safety helicopter was eventually dispatched and arrived on the scene, where it was able to locate the hiking group, the sheriff’s office said.

“Four individuals were hoisted to safety and released to medical teams,” the release said.

As it turns out, the Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau this year is already on pace to eclipse the total number of search and rescue missions that it conducted last year, said Sgt. Wyatt Weber, with the Utah Division of Public Safety Aero Bureau.

This is happening for different reasons, Weber said.

“Six years ago we added a hoist component to our operation,” Weber said. “So, before, the only real option for a hoist in Utah was LifeFlight and they’ve got some restrictions, you know, as to what they can do.”

The Aero Bureau started a hoist program and began going out on search and rescue missions that might’ve taken a ground search and rescue team hours or even days.

“We can come in and do those rescues in 10 or 15 minutes,” Weber said.

Additionally, an uptick in people flocking to Utah’s desert regions — specifically since the pandemic — has led to more incidents, thus more missions for the Aero Bureau.

“I’m sure there’s a component of additional people being stuck. What those numbers would be, I don’t know,” Weber said. “I’m sure it’s a multifaceted problem.”

Last year, Weber said the bureau conducted 500 search and rescue missions. Now, nearly three months through the new year, the bureau has already been involved in 200 missions.

“We’re well above where we have been in the past,” Weber said, adding that he’s thankful for funding from the state Legislature that provided funds for a new helicopter.

“This is one of those programs in the state where I can go, ‘Hey, you know, here’s 25 people who this year would be dead had we not been there,'” Weber said. “It does save lives. I think it’s money well spent.”

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Public Safety helicopter on pace to conduct more search and rescue missions than last year