Overdue hunters in northern Arizona accounted for

AP News
Posted: Dec 10, 2009 8:09 PM

Authorities in northern Arizona said Thursday all hunters reported stranded or overdue after a powerful storm brought deep snow and freezing temperatures to the area have been accounted for.

In all, authorities received 22 reports either from hunters or concerned family members. Coconino County Sheriff's Office spokesman Gerry Blair said 50 hunters were offered assistance as of Thursday evening, some of whom declined.

A powerful winter storm dumped between 2 and 3 feet of snow in northern Arizona earlier this week, and wind gusts reached up to 78 mph. Some hunters returned cold and hungry but no major injuries were reported, Blair said.

"I think a number of folks were caught off-guard by the drastic change in the weather and the high accumulations," he said. "If people would have known if they drive on this road and in two days they couldn't drive out, obviously they would have made a different decision."

Authorities said they could get more calls after elk hunting season ends at sundown Thursday. Between 2,500 and 3,000 permits were issued for the nearly weeklong hunt, said Shelly Shepherd, a spokeswoman for the state Game and Fish Department.

A less severe storm is expected to hit the area this weekend.

Searchers focused on retrieving hunters who might have been low on food and heating fuel. They checked known camps where the elk hunters might be based and looked for signs of distress, using snowmobiles, helicopters and planes.

Some hunters scattered across the region tried to dig themselves out of the snow but found roads impassable, Blair said. Cell phone coverage can be spotty in some areas.

Blair said search and rescue missions are typical following a winter storm, but it's unusual to have so many active missions at one time.

"The storm just hit when everyone was out in the field," he said.

One hunter died Monday night when wind gusts sent a pine tree crashing down on his tent as he slept.