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Helicopter Rescues Students Stranded by Snow Near Grand Canyon

Between 18 and 24 inches of snow covering dirt roads near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon proved too much for a pair of vans to handle.

This is one winter-weather commute worth writing home about: Twenty Arizona college students and staff are safe after they were rescued by helicopter from an area near the Grand Canyon after heavy snow made roads impassable, authorities said.

It took an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter 11 hours Tuesday to ferry the 18 Northern Arizona University students and two staff members from Sowats Point near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said. The helicopter could only carry about three students each trip, and had to refuel twice.

"Everyone’s fine, they were in very good spirits," Tom Bauer, director of public affairs for the Flagstaff university, said Wednesday. "I’m hearing it was considered an adventure — these are people who like the outdoors."

The group of 16 students, two faculty members and two graduate student assistants had been camping in the area since Feb. 18 as part of an outdoor leadership course that the school had conducted for "many, many years," and they were equipped with proper clothing and were never in any danger, Bauer said. "The leaders of it are outdoors people and they are prepared," he said.

They had a satellite phone and called family members and the university Monday after finding that the dirt roads they’d used to enter were now covered by 18 to 24 inches of snow from a recent storm and their two vans couldn’t make it out, the sheriff’s office said. The students were flown from Sowats Point to Jacob Lake, where university vehicles were waiting, the sheriff’s office said. The group returned to campus at around 7:30 p.m. local time Tuesday.

— Phil Helsel