An all-night rescue operation ended successfully as 17 hikers stranded by floodwaters that overwhelmed a canyon creek — including a 4-year-old boy — were pulled to safety near Tucson, Ariz., authorities said Monday.
Shortly before 7 a.m. Monday (9 a.m. ET), the last two hikers were airlifted out of Tanque Verde Falls Trails, where they'd spent a terrifying night clinging to tree limbs and rocks on the side of a cliff, the Pima County Sheriff's Department said.
Pima County search and rescue deputies, fire crews and a team from the Southern Arizona Rescue Association worked throughout Sunday night and early Monday to retrieve the 17 hikers from the canyon in Redington Pass, a nearly mile-high mountain pass between the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountain ranges.
None of the hikers, who were in several different groups, was reported to have significant injuries.
Monsoon-like rains, a regular summertime occurrence, often lead to swift and deadly flash floods as rainwater rushes down the mountains into the southern Arizona valleys. But "all too often, hikers decide to hike just after it rains because the temperature is cooler, not realizing they are walking into areas which are at an increased risk for flash flooding," the sheriff's department said.
Fifteen of the hikers were plucked by helicopter or escorted to safety overnight, leaving the last two to await the light of dawn for a helicopter to reach them, authorities said.
"We're lucky not to have lost anyone," Shelley Littin, a swift-water rescue technician with the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, told The Associated Press.
Summers in the state are routinely punctuated by what's called the Arizona Monsoon, a burst of intense rain caused when hot air creates low pressure zones that draw moist air from the gulfs of Mexico and California.
While the state is often depicted as a bone-dry desert landscape, the fact is that "the monsoon is the main severe weather threat in Arizona," Christopher Castro, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona, told The Arizona Republic of Phoenix.