By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Emily Decker stands on a narrow ledge more than 80 feet above the desert floor, clinging to the side of Flatiron Peak, a massive tower of rock in the Superstition Wilderness. She knows she's in trouble, and fear tingles through her body. Her boyfriend, John Wilkinson, hangs about 10 feet above her, gripping the rock, with no discernible path up.
Trapped, he searches for protruding rocks below him so he can descend off the jagged mountainside. Decker, too, also examines the wall as she ponders her next move.
Then, a split-second mistake.
The 20-year-old Wilkinson loses his grip, and Decker, 24, watches in horror as he slides past her on the rock's flat face.
Their hands graze each other as he falls.
The young couple's naive plan for a wilderness adventure on that beautiful day in March 2008 turns tragic as Wilkinson's face smashes into the mountain, the impact knocking out several teeth and ripping gashes in his face. His body bounces off the rock, and he slams to the ground, face and palms first, into a clump of brush.
"He hit hard," Decker recalls. "He landed flat, and his shoes flew off him, his backpack flew off. [His teeth] were just really ripped out, all the way out of the upper bone."
She calls down to him, and after a few breathless moments that seem like an eternity, he miraculously answers. As he lies there, she yells out into the expansive desert: "Help, help, help!"
Decker is rightly terrified that her screams are dissipating in the wind.
It's about noon, and Wilkinson manages to get up after his 80-foot fall, find his backpack containing his cell phone, and dial 911. Decker is feeling woozy; she leans her head against the wall to maintain her balance.
She closes her eyes and tries to focus on her breathing to control the fear. Everything goes black for a few seconds. She regains consciousness to a sharp ringing in her ears. Unbelievably, she hasn't fallen off the ledge.
Fear then turns into adrenaline. She spots a wider ledge above her and climbs to it. It offers enough space for her to sit.
Below, Wilkinson remains on his cell phone for two hours with the 911 dispatcher, as rescue workers use GPS to track the couple's location. They are nothing more than specks in the 160,000-acre wilderness east of Apache Junction. But, finally, a helicopter swings around the mountain.
Decker's instant feeling of salvation is short-lived as the chopper circles past them and appears to be flying away.
"They don't see us!" she shouts to Wilkinson, when the helicopter swoops in and out of her view several more times. She doesn't know that the pilot is dropping rescue workers, two at a time, into the desert and on top of the mountain 400 feet above her.
Eventually, she spots hikers closing in on Wilkinson; she had no concept of search-and-rescue teams at the time.
"I thought maybe they were all paramedics," she recalls, nearly five years later. "And when they told me they were trying to figure out how to get me down, I was thinking, 'Wait, who are these people?'"
The plainclothes superheroes — who spent about 12 hours saving Emily Decker and John Wilkinson — are members of Superstition Search and Rescue, a team of 34 highly skilled volunteers who put their lives on the line for people they've never met.
Rescue workers stabilize Wilkinson, strap him into a stretcher that winds up dangling 175 feet below the helicopter, and airlift him out of the desert.
To reach Decker, a volunteer rappels from the top of the massive rock formation, straps her into a harness, and scales down with her another 80 feet to the desert floor. It is near 10 p.m. by the time the team and Decker start walking. It takes team members two hours to guide her, using only headlamps, up and down fields of large boulders and out of the wilderness.
Superstition Search and Rescue has played a role in saving more than 2,000 lives over the past 10 years — and thousands more beginning in 1983, when the group formally organized as a nonprofit group. Its members also have provided closure for families by locating the remains of loved ones after official searches have been called off.
The team made national news in November after it located remains that almost certainly are what's left of Jesse Capen, a gold prospector from Colorado who went missing three years ago during his search for the fabled Lost Dutchman Mine ("Fool's Gold," April 22, 2010).
It was an emotional discovery for the team, which had combed the desert nearly every weekend since Capen went missing in December 2009. The Office of the Medical Examiner has yet to identify the body, but team members discovered what they believe are Capen's remains in a mountainside crevice, about a half-mile from where his campsite was found deserted.
There are many volunteer-based search-and-rescue teams across Arizona, most working in cooperation with county sheriff's offices. Over three decades, SSAR worked closely and cooperatively with four generations of Pinal County sheriffs — always answering the call to search for and rescue lost and injured hikers, gold prospectors, Boy Scouts, rock climbers, tourists, and residents who ventured into the alluring but treacherous Superstition Wilderness.
Of all aspects of the various SO's around the State...the Search & Rescue needs to be free of politics and negative influences. Save people who need saving...end of story. The money wasted on so many other "programs" remains under the radar. If people can pay-back some of the expenses for a particular act of stupidity...then so be it...If not...move on...have a fund raiser and shut up.
Babeu not only is costing taxpayer, Babeu is an embarrasement for pinal county, Arizona and san tan valley neighborhood. People feel compassion for babeu after seeing his profile and photos on porn sites.
What about the twisted investigation Dave cole did about Babeu threatening his exboyfriend. the true will come out sooner than later with more texts, lettes and photos, including babeu offering a job as a cop to one of his lovers. that's a fact is still on electronic documents to be reviewed by a new qualified investigators. then all liers chris derose, kurt cusanovich and the big lier narcissist and opportunistic will face the justice.
i dont understand how corrupt politicians keep getting into office year after year, McCain has been in there for years has no potential, Arpaio many years in office, has potential, but with all the lawsuits and payouts its really time for the rocking chair, Brewer has a big mouth, and one big cock would take care of that
if you are searching for ignorance in america, you need look no further than the voters of pinal county who elected and re-elected the liar, pedofile, self centered braggard know as babeu...rhymes with peeee uuuu.
Monica, This is a great article you wrote for Robert and his wonderful SSAR Volunteer Team. I am so proud to know some of the members and that they still continued in spite of Paul stupidity in his first day of Office getting rid of them. They did not let Paul steal their determination, dedication, purpose and integrity to the community, in helping of saving lives and finding bodies for family members.
Paul is a evil person that he thinks he can steal people's joy, but he did not win in this case. This SSAR group moved forward, continued doing their volunteer work, their spirit not broken by Paul Babeu. The reason being, it wasn't about them. It was about other people. This is something Paul knows nothing about. Paul is so self-centered, he acts out in revenge, anger and he always thinks people will quit. Sorry Paul, your plan did not work. You lost a very valuable group of people that were very dedicated and did it for free. You will never understand that. You are so abusive Paul, you do not even realize you even abuse your own dick.
Monica, again, thank you for writing this great article and thanks to SSAR and all your continued dedication to other people. You are the true hero's .
Paul Babeu your plan failed. And it will again with your border volunteers, because it is just about you. Helen
Outstanding piece. I can't wait for you to investigate the outright corruption of Babeau and their selective enforcement for political supporters.
I havent been around here much, but I Read this story. As a former volunteer firefighter I have to admire the courage of those who go out and try and help strangers in trouble. It's too bad fucking AZ politics have to interfere. Fuck Babeau, fuck his lackies and fuck all the idiots that put these fucktards into office.BTW aren't AZ people all about saving on taxes? FUCKING bunch of hypocrites in this state.
Add Mr. Babeau to the list of worthless sheriffs that includes Larry Dever of Cochise county who died while driving totally smashed, and Joe Arpiao of Maricopa County whose offenses against humanity are too long to list here. It's a long, sordid list that goes back to the days of the corrupt Earp brothers.
Of all the useless government items we have, county government has to rank top of the list. There is nothing that the county government does that cannot be handled by the state or by the various cities and towns. All of it is redundant. Perhaps a county government made sense back in 1880, when it took two days to get from Phoenix to Prescott, but now, it certainly does not make any sense at all. Time to eliminate it, along with all its corrupt county commissioners, worthless bureaucrats, and pompous cowboy sheriffs.
Tim Gaggme is a fucking liar, and Paul Babeu's favorite stooge.. Everybody knows that. How does he sleep at night being such a creep! With Gaggme around, Babeu always has somebody around to tell him what a studly sheriff he is.
ARS 11-441. Powers and duties
8. C. The sheriff shall conduct or coordinate within the county search or rescue operations involving the life or health of any person, or may assist in such operations in another county at the request of that county's sheriff, and may request assistance from any persons or agencies in the fulfillment of duties under this subsection.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu can call upon Superstition Search & Rescue at anytime! Sheriff Babeu just does not like to use all available resources to save someones life! Which is better out searching 50 Posse only or a combination of Posse and SSAR for 85 searches looking for the lost, injured or deceased?
Plus SSAR does not cost the County any of your Tax Dollars, where the PCSO SAR Posse does take your tax dollars!
PCSO SAR Posse, SSAR, MCSO SAR, C.A.M.R.A. and other SAR volunteers did not join these teams for Political reasons!
These Volunteers joined to help those in time of need, they do this "So that others, May live"!
Those on Search & Rescue Posse's are not there to make a Sheriff look Good or Bad. They are there to help those in time of trouble!
Politics do not belong in Search & Rescue!
I am thankful for every Search & Rescue Volunteer, in every County and every State in this Country!
God Bless each and everyone of these kind and caring individuals to give of there time, effort and money to save others!
Perverts like StudBoi knows that they are welcomed to Arizona by the biggest pervert of them all: the Old Fart from MCSO and his pink undies along with his bitch jaffy.
Arizona elects the worst of the worst when it comes to electing politicians. Arpaio, Babeu, Brewer, McCain and on and on
One of my best friends was rescued by the SSAR group in the 1990s at Weaver's Needle. He had fallen off the volcanic ridge just to the south of the needle and was laying in the bottom. When I saw that rope and litter come down I was the happiest man on earth. They saved our friend's life and permanent brain damage. This SPHINCTER comes into Arizona after buggering all the kids in that school he was headmaster at and starts buggering the citizens of Arizona - He should be BUGGERED by a Saguaro FORCIBLY!
Sheriff Cock-hound just wants these SSAR members to join "his posse," so he can smell all their drawers after they have done a long, hot, sweaty, rescue. The sheriff has volunteered to wash their undergarments in return for their service. One question I have to ask, Sheriff Paul was asked if he had any inappropriate/sexual relationships with anybody under 18 on his AZ POST application. How did Chandler PD miss that this scumbag was living with his sexual slave (i.e.-a child)?
StudBoi interviewed them in private probably to see wich one has the biggest dick to "extract the information" from it.
My father, now deceased, George was a member of SSAR and good friend of Robert Cooper. He was fully involved with the crew, received awards from the Govenor and the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and was heartbroken when the SSAR was shunned by Babeu. He suffered in silence, lost some of his physicality and the depression all lead to his demise.
Just disgraceful. What a complete waste of a county's resources. Why? Well, apparently Babeu wants to reinvent the wheel in his county! Wonder when that wheel will roll over Babeu and drag him through the mud like he deserves.
BBBBBueeeue is a typical politician. More worried about re-election than the people he serves. Tsk, Tsk on the residence of Pinal county.
Nice to see PCSO's Brian Messing finally getting some attention for some of his follies.
The dictionary might have said it best: "MESSING," as a verb, would be to cause or make a mess; to use or handle something carelessly; fiddle; to intrude; interfere.
Babeu is just a mindless inept Joe Arpaio Mini Me. Hard to believe Pinal County voters re-elected this degenerate as their sheriff. Well, Pinal County is welcome to their bizarre sheriff who pimps himself off in gay want ads. I guess honor and integrity no longer are part of the sheriff job description.
Joe Paul is used to snowing the folks out in la la land. This is no exception. He created the posse so those involved would 'owe' him, thus buying their loyalty.
It appears he is following the lead of his mentor, the Geriatric Goon of MCSO, with regard to failure to work WITH other agencies for the good of the people.
Like the Flaccid Failure of MCSO, Babeau cares only about his image, stud boi that he is.
How about we stay on topic and you stuff a sock in off topic crap?
When you can't attack the message, attack the messenger. You, senile, hateful Joe, and the gay, illegal alien loving Babeu would make a lovely threesome.
@sheriffslutboi1 If a situation ever comes up where you need to be rescued, when rescuers are standing on the ledge hearing you beg for their help they should thumb their noses at you and walk away.
@dethompson112 wrote " Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu can call upon Superstition Search & Rescue at anytime!".
Very true and there is considerable precedent in Arizona for a County Sheriff using volunteers as an agency unto themselves. An excellent example is in Pima County. Check out:
In Pima County the SO calls out SARCI and a few deputies handle the legalities. SARCI is an umbrella organization for volunteer SAR teams, the oldest of which began in 1958. Some of the deputies were pretty darned good too, back in my day. This may not last when the current Sheriff retires and someone new is elected, that's the risk all volunteer teams face.
The new guy always wants to change things, slap his name on everything and to hell with what works as it is, he'll fix it until it breaks!
@budsan so does the rest of the country.. Time to realize that politics attracts the worst sorts, and the worst ALWAYS get on top. Arizona is no exception, and there is no government on Earth that has resisted this principle. Some governments hide it better than others, but that is the extent of the mitigation.
@kikiscupcakeservice sorry to hear that. my sister was helped out by SSAR, so she and i both appreciate them and everything theyve done.
@luislv3 No, they are not "county resources". Governments have NO resources except the ones they steal from the people. Just because they extort money and call it taxes does not make it anything better than theft. The SSAR is proof that we do not need governments, and that voluntary associations work far better.
@PissOnArpaio LMAO that was good.
@PoPoPaula you mean paula pollack,Or Tim....
@JoeArpaioFan Let's talk about the Bald Bunion of Pinal County first. Then President Obama second.
@JoeArpaioFan blah blah blah blah blah blah blah......
oh, sorry, were you saying something? Anything? Didn't think so.
@JoeArpaioFan the NBA All Star team has been STICKING it to your mom for decades, no problem. Such a gang bang lovin' slut.
@JoeArpaioFan LMAO the liberals have been sticking it to the American people?
I just read on yahoo that Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is refusing to commit his chamber to a floor vote on sorely-needed gun control laws after the mass shooting in Connecticut.
This has nothing to do with politics. This has to do with a stunningly inept ass-clown masquerading as a county shurf in an attempt to be tough on crime when he's really a liberal.
BTW, Studboi is from Massachusetts (one of the most LIBERAL states in the country) and was the first Republican sheriff elected in Pinal County since 1875 (the year Pinal County was established) and is a TOTAL FAILURE.
@JoeArpaioFan what in the hell are you babbling about? did you even read the article? i doubt you did. its talking about a agency that has proven its incompetence replacing a group that isnt costing us but very little, that is highly efficient and extremely competent.
@danzigsdaddy You're talking to a brick wall by responding to JAF.
All those states together don't have as many racist, hateful, illiterate, tea-publican nut jobs as AZ.
@ReggieVV Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, New Hampshire.... uh, let's just save some typing and say "the other 49 states"!