19:55 PM

National Cell Phone Team Points Ariz. Searchers to Lost Mother, Child

Capt. Margot Myers
Public Affairs Officer
Arizona Wing

Civil Air Patrol’s National Cell Phone Forensics Team helped direct searchers early this morning to a 34-year-old mother and her 4-year-old daughter after they became lost while hiking and spent the night outside in north-central Arizona.

Sgt. Dennis Newman of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office provided the following account:

Before the woman’s boyfriend had left their camp Friday morning in the Pine-Strawberry area southeast of Flagstaff to go bow-hunting, she told him that while he was out she and her daughter were going to follow some deer tracks they’d seen. When he arrived back at camp at 1 p.m., they hadn’t returned.

After searching unsuccessfully for the two, the man called for help about 2 p.m. Searchers from the sheriff’s office, including a search dog, were on the scene in 90 minutes. They searched in a 360-degree circle around the camp until sunset.

In addition, an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter with FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) capability flew over the area until 10 p.m., focusing north of camp – the direction the woman’s boyfriend believed they had gone.

The CAP cell phone team was activated just before 7 p.m. The team’s cell data analysis determined that the mother and daughter had headed south, not north, from camp. The information provided to the sheriff’s office at 4:30 a.m. allowed the sheriff’s office to resume and redirect its search at dawn.

Searchers found the pair 11/2 hours later south of the site. They had wandered in circles and were discovered less than 3 miles away.

While being debriefed afterward, the woman said she and her daughter had spotted the helicopter the previous night but couldn’t get to a clearing or figure out how to signal the aircrew. They had begun walking at dawn between a power line and a cattle fence, figuring they would eventually encounter a road.

"Twenty-four hours later, we'd still be looking in the wrong direction if we hadn't gotten the info from CAP," Newman said.

The cell phone team’s Col. Brian Ready started the mission and Maj. Justin Ogden finished it.