Update 2/24/15 12:57 pm: DPS Air Rescue Helicopter Transporting Stranded NAU Students from Sowats Point
The Arizona DPS helicopter pilot has surveyed the area on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where the 20 NAU students and faculty are stranded at Sowats Point. He determined he can safely transport the stranded people out of area by air. Currently three of the students have been airlifted to the parking lot at Jacobs Lake where they were met by NAU transport vehicles. The students and faculty members will be flown three at a time until all members of the party have been safely relocated.
Fredonia, AZ; On Monday, February 23, 2015 at about 1:00 pm the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a representative of Northern Arizona University. According to the caller two NAU vans carrying sixteen students, two university staff members, and two graduate students/assistants were stuck by snow-covered, impassable dirt roads in the area of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The group had been camping for several days in the area of Sowats Point located outside of the Grand National Park. They attempted to drive out of the area yesterday afternoon when the vans became stuck in snow. Students and staff were able to free the vehicle; however, it was apparent to them that the dirt roads covered with deep snow were impassable. The area from Fredonia to the North Rim is reporting between 18-24” of snowfall from the most recent storm.
Sheriff’s Office personnel had intermittent contact with members of the party via cell phones and satellite texting. All members of the group are in good health with ample provisions and camping equipment to sustain them overnight. Due to the time of day and the weather conditions, the decision was made to have the group drive as far east as possible and to shelter in place inside the vehicles overnight. The group is approximately 30 miles south of Fredonia and 20 miles west of SR 67.
The Sheriff’s Office developed two rescue plans and coordinated with Arizona Department of Public Safety Air Rescue. This morning an AZ DPS helicopter and crew from Flagstaff flew to the area to determine if members of the party can be safely picked up and flown out. Current conditions of low cloud cover, heavy fog and light snow may hamper this rescue approach. Coconino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel will stand by with a snow cat and a four wheel drive vehicle equipped with mattracks. In the event that an air rescue is not possible, SAR personnel will drive to the location and transport them to safety.
During this rescue, the Coconino County Sheriff’s has also been in close contact with officials of Northern Arizona University, the Kaibab National Forest and the Grand Canyon National Park Service. According to an NAU official, the students are participating in the Parks and Recreation Management (PRM) Outdoor Education and Leadership (OEL) program. The class field trip began on Wednesday, February 18 and was scheduled to conclude on Monday February 23, 2015.
This photo is from a snow storm at the North Rim in 1941.