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For the week of Oct. 13, 1999 through Oct. 19, 1999

Three hunters emerge in good health after getting lost in Sawtooth back country

Arizona trio survives freezing night

Express Staff Writer

o13hunters.jpg (9430 bytes)Back in their room Thursday afternoon at Christiania Lodge in Ketchum were three exhausted hunters from Arizona who walked out of the Sawtooth National Forest without incident after losing their way overnight. A crew from Blaine County Search and Rescue couldn’t find the trio. Ultimately, the hunters discovered a path back to their vehicle not far from Warm Springs Road. Left to right: Tom Herrera, Jim Wickham and Ed Rubash. (Express photo by Ron Soble)

Three lost deer hunters spent a subfreezing night in the local back country last Wednesday, finally emerging Thursday afternoon not far from Warm Springs Road.

The trio—Tom Herrera, 46, Ed Rubash, 30, and Jim Wickham, 29—said they were experienced hunters from Wickenburg, Ariz., about 55 miles northwest of Phoenix. They said they had hunted before in Blaine County.

Apparently the only injury sustained was to their pride. Their experience once again illustrates the effort Blaine County Search and Rescue puts into a ground and air operation for individuals lost in the sometimes confusing back country.

After shooting and dressing a buck Wednesday afternoon, the three became disoriented in the rugged hills of the Sawtooth National Forest’s Smoky Mountains. By then, they were several miles from their Ford Bronco, which was parked along the West Fork of Warm Springs Creek, about seven miles west of Ketchum.

"Being experienced hunters, we thought we’d get our bearings," Rubash said.

But as the three construction workers trudged on for miles, they realized it would be a long night.

Disheveled and obviously exhausted, the hunters spoke to an Idaho Mountain Express reporter Thursday afternoon in their room at the Christiania Lodge in Ketchum. Two of them had just taken telephone calls from their wives who had feared the worst.

Rubash recounted a telephone conversation between Wickham and his wife after the three returned to their room. "She assumed we were all dead and eaten by mountain lions," he said.

The hunters said they spent Wednesday night plodding through dense forest and freezing streams, straining under heavy backpacks containing quarters from the buck they had shot.

None of the hunters was carrying survival gear. Indeed, they were equipped with just one tiny working flashlight to guide them on a moonless night. They had no compass, no matches and little food, munching, they said, on "snacks."

At about 10:30 p.m., the hunters said, they decided to bed down and tried to keep warm under pine needles and branches. But sleep wasn’t in the cards.

Besides the bone chilling cold, Rubash and Wickham said it was difficult dozing because "Tom snores."

The trio belonged to a party of six hunters from Arizona. When the three didn’t return at nightfall on Wednesday, their companions called the Blaine County Sheriff. A Search and Rescue team was activated Wednesday night.

At dawn, a search party of approximately 15 individuals, mostly volunteers, was formed, Blaine County Sheriff"s Capt. Ed Fuller said. Two light aircraft circled overhead.

Also called into the search was Cody, a 5-year-old Airedale Terrier tracking dog owned by Cam Daggett, the Sun Valley police chief. Accompanied by Daggett, Cody sniffed a shirt left in the hunters’ Bronco, but the trail was cold.

The search on Thursday, a warm, sun-splashed day, turned up no sign of the hunters.

For their part, the Arizona trio said they had climbed one of the Smokey peaks and waved a white shirt at planes flying overhead—but to no avail.

Finally, at around 2:30 p.m., about 24 hours after starting out, the three found the Bronco. A member of Search and Rescue was nearby.

"We’ve been looking for you," he said, according to the hunters.

Sheriff’s Capt. Fuller said Search and Rescue, largely privately funded, probably wouldn’t charge the hunters for the search effort.

More importantly, he declared, "Everything went well. Everyone returned safely."

(Contributing to this story was Idaho Mountain Express staff writer Greg Stahl.)


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