Authorities had searched high and low for 53-year-old Kelley Tate (above), who went missing in the rugged Superstition Mountains last Thursday. But they didn't search low enough.
After 150 searchers combed the mountains for days, utilizing dogs, horses, and a helicopter, a phoned-in tip led to the discovery of Tate's body on a short, easy trail next to the Lost Dutchman State Park parking lot.
"We never set out to do a half-assed search," Tami Villar, spokeswoman for the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, tells New Times. "[Rescuers] are disappointed because they didn't search that area more."
The Lost Dutchman Park, just northeast of Apache Junction, is just a small part of the 160,000-acre mountain region.
Search-and-rescue teams assumed that Tate probably fell and injured himself on one of the East Valley mountain park's burlier trails, Villar says. After all, Tate was an experienced hiker with no known medical conditions.
When Tate didn't come back from a hike he'd started Thursday morning, his family became worried and called police. Searchers surveyed the area around the day-use parking lots, where Tate's body was ultimately found, but only with "limited resources," Villar says.
"They called out to him on the first night and didn't get any type of response, so that area they considered to have been gone over," Villar says.
The next day, the search was focused on the higher regions of the Supes, where it's more likely someone would hurt themselves. After three days of combing the landscape, searchers scaled back the effort on Monday. Then, yesterday at about 5:30 p.m., a man called the Sheriff's Office and told dispatchers he believed he'd run into Tate on a trail.
Villar says the two met at the "waterfall." Though Villar could not confirm it, sure sounds like it was the waterfall (rarely flowing) on the popular Siphon Draw Gully trail. Tate was coming down and the other hiker was going up. Based on that information, authorities decided to take another look for Tate nearer to the trailheads at the parking lot.
Within minutes, they found Tate's body just off the Discovery Trail, a half-mile path that connects the day-use areas with the park's campground. Tate's death doesn't appear to be a suicide, Villar says. Tate was found just off the trail -- "it appears he kind of sat down," she says. He'd been there for a little while, investigators believe.
Perhaps because it's so small, the Superstition Search-and-Rescue volunteer team doesn't even include the Discovery Trail on its online map of the area (at left).
If he'd been having a medical problem and someone had found him right away on Thursday night, it's possible his life could have been saved, Villar says. But that's just speculation, she adds -- a scheduled autopsy may provide more answers about what happened to him.
The above-linked story in the East Valley Tribune says Tate is a pharmaceutical chemist who works in China, but is originally from Mesa and still owns a home there. He was in town visiting family members.
No doubt, rescuers will keep this case in mind the next time a hiker goes missing.
UPDATE 9/17/09: Channel 5 News (KPHO-TV) reports that the autopsy showed Tate died of a heart attack.