The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and Arizona Department of Public Safety rescued 20 Northern Arizona University students and staff members from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon Tuesday.
An NAU representative notified the Sheriff’s Office around 1 p.m. Monday that a group of 16 NAU students, two graduate student assistants and two university staff members had been camping for several days near Sowats Point, located outside of the Grand National Park. According to an NAU official, the students were participating in the Parks and Recreation Management Outdoor Education and Leadership program. The class field trip began Feb. 18 and was scheduled to conclude on Monday.
When the group tried to leave the area Monday afternoon, one of their vans became stuck on a snow-covered dirt road.
The group was able to free the vehicle from the snow but realized the roads were impassable due to a storm that had brought 18 to 24 inches of snowfall to the area from Fredonia to the North Rim.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, all members of the group are in good health. They had enough provisions and camping equipment to make it through the night, so they drove as far east as possible and sheltered in place inside the vans Monday night.
The vans were approximately 30 miles south of Fredonia and 20 miles west of SR 67. The Sheriff’s Office had intermittent contact with the group via cell phones and satellite texting since they were discovered to be stranded.
A DPS helicopter crew from Flagstaff flew to the area Tuesday morning and determined an air rescue would be possible despite low cloud cover, heavy fog and light snow. The students and faculty members were flown three at a time until all members of the party could be safely relocated. All 20 students and staff were safely airlifted to the parking lot at Jacobs Lake, where they were met by NAU transport vehicles to be taken back to Flagstaff.
During the rescue, the Sheriff’s Office has also been in close contact with officials from NAU, Kaibab National Forest and the Grand Canyon National Park Service.