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March 2014


P.O. BOX 357

A self-supporting, not-for-profit group of volunteer citizens dedicated to improving safety in the Arizona wilderness.

Operating under the authority of the Gila County Sheriff's Office
Sheriff, Adam Shepherd

TRSAR Squad meets monthly

General Public Welcome
2nd Thursday @ 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Payson Public Library Meeting Room
328 N. McLane Road - Payson, Arizona


Click here for the PDF version of this newsletter


Don’t forget.
The meetings for April are:

Board  Meeting: Tuesday the 8th, 1600 Hrs at the Squad Building.

General  Meeting: Thursday the 10th, 1900 Hrs at the Payson Library.

Commander's Corner

Board Tree Saddle Mission Feb-Mar 2014


The subject, Paul Tomasso, 56 year old male, was reported missing when he did not arrive on a flight to Connecticut on February 24, 2014 for a family event.  His vehicle was located near Board Tree Saddle on SR288 about 10 miles south of Young, AZ.

Sgt. Rodney Cronk and Sgt. Dennis Newman of Gila County Sheriffs Office, along with Dave Pirtle of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue (one of our best trackers) went out on February 25th to search around the vehicle and gather whatever information they could, and establish a direction of travel if possible.  They found a note on the vehicle indicating that Mr Tomasso had left the vehicle on February 13 and indicated he was going to backpack for 4 or 5 days “plus or minus”.

Since the note indicated he left his vehicle on the 13th, and it was now the 25th, tracks and scent were already 12 days old.  A helicopter was also called in on this first day and covered as much area as it could before dark.

A note about the terrain in this area:  This is extremely rugged country, very rocky which is not conducive to tracking, and it is covered with very dense brush.  It would be possible to walk within 10 feet of an unresponsive person and not be able to see them, so line searches would not be very productive, and would require intense manpower.  The area east of the vehicle has a more than 1000 foot drop extending several miles north and south.  It is mostly cliffs with some intersecting draws and ridges that could be climbed down or up.  The area west of the vehicle also drops in elevation and is intersected by various draws and canyons that drop very steeply into deep canyons.

This topographic map shows the terrain layout in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle:

Identifying a direction of travel on the first day was not successful.  In addition to 12 days of elapsed time and very rocky ground, there are deer, elk, and cattle in the area, along with birds, insects, wind, and other track erosion mechanisms in play.

It was noted by the family that the subject liked to investigate Indian ruins, so some focus was placed on these and there are numerous of these in this area.  Family also noted that he was in good health, was experienced at backpacking, and would travel as much as 10 miles in a day.  This made for a huge search area.  Just using a radius of 10 miles makes a search area of over 300 square miles, so the need to establish a direction of travel, or find area attractants, was paramount in being able to narrow the scope of the search to make it feasible.

The second day callout for February 26 was for Mounted Posse as well as jeeps and quads – to cover roads and as much ground as possible close to the location of the vehicle in a continuing attempt to establish a direction of travel and help narrow the direction of the search.  21 searchers responded on the first day from Gila County Sheriffs Mounted Posse and Tonto Rim Search and Rescue.  They covered dozens of miles by quad, jeep, and horseback, and found no clues.  DPS Ranger helicopter was also on scene during the day, and also in the evening after dark to look for fires or lights – with no success. 

A significant winter storm was bearing down on central Arizona for Friday through Sunday, so the Arizona State SAR coordinator was contacted to get as many resources in as possible from other counties to put on a major push before the storm destroyed further ability to track or look for sign.

On February 27th, 44 searchers signed in, as well as K-9 units.  They came from Maricopa County (Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association), Navajo County (both mounted and ground searchers), and Gila County (both mounted and ground searchers and K-9). In addition to searchers, numerous support personnel arrived with food, water, and other supplies needed to maintain a long duration Search and Rescue effort.  Many, many miles were covered by horseback, by vehicles, and by foot.  Technical teams were required to access some of the near-vertical canyons.  One team was in the field until after midnight due to a difficult extraction from the assigned search area.

On February 28th, after some very difficult hiking and searching on the previous day, 26 searchers signed in again from Gila County and Maricopa County.  The winter storm set in late this evening, and throughout the afternoon searchers were hampered by high winds and dropping temperatures.

On Saturday March 1st, 12 searchers from Gila County and Maricopa County made it through heavy rain to the search location, and searched additional search sections.  This was a good test of rain and winter weather gear, as there were high winds, sleet, and snow – including a “thunder snow” – all day long.

The next day, Sunday, March 2nd, 6 searchers coming from Payson had to travel through a foot of snow on top of the Rim. Several searchers were turned back due to a jack-knifed truck that looked like it would take a while to remove. Searchers covered additional canyons and areas with possible ruins identified by the forest service.  The greatest difficulty on this day was very slick ground saturated by over 3.5 inches of precipitation, plus a cover of 2 inches of snow.

Monday, March 3rd found 13 searchers from Gila County and Navajo County covered more possible attractants identified by the search coordinators.

Tuesday, March 4, 28 searchers from Gila County, Navajo County, and Maricopa County signed in and covered assignments.

Wednesday, March 5, 15 searchers from Gila County and Maricopa County covered assignments.

Thursday, March 6, 14 searchers from Gila County, Navajo County, and Maricopa County covered additional assignments.

By Friday, March 7, it was getting difficult to get searchers due to the prolonged effort, people with jobs, etc.  3 searchers from Gila County performed their assignments, and at the end of the day the Sheriff’s Office decided to suspend the search unless new leads could be developed.

 This was a very difficult search, and it was very difficult for the coordinators to make a decision to suspend the search.  There were a number of compounding factors in this search that made it difficult:

·       The search started 12 days after the subjects last known position at his vehicle - 12 days of track and scent erosion.  Tracks were found in conflicting locations during the search, but were not possible to follow, and could have been made by others in the area, such as horn hunters or other hikers.

·       Very difficult terrain for tracking, even if the tracks were current.

·       No direction of travel was ever established to help narrow or focus the search.

·       A heavy winter storm covered the search are with over 3.5 inches of precipitation starting the 5th day of the search.

·       Very remote location hampered communications on a number of levels – very spotty cell phone service prevented timely communications with various agencies that could provide assistance, such as with locations/maps of ruins that might be an attractant.  Local communications with searchers was difficult as well, with searchers occasionally being designated to be radio relay for safety.

·       Extreme terrain made it difficult for teams to complete an assignment.  Several canyons required technical gear just to reach the assignment area.  Dense brush made movement difficult and also hampered efficient coverage of an assigned area.

·       During the storm footing was slippery and dangerous requiring additional safety precautions.


Resources Applied:

Over the course of the 11 days of active searching, volunteers provided the bulk of the manpower in the field.  By my count 185 man days were spent by volunteers covering the various search assignments.  K-9’s were used on several of these days.  DPS Ranger helicopter was used on several of these days.  In addition, food, water, and other supplies were delivered to the command center by various volunteers and other state resources to support the search efforts.

Click on pictures for larger versions


Tonto Rim Search and Rescue

March Training Schedule


Dog Training. Susan Starr 480-278-3806 kansasstarr88@yahoo.com

Saturday, March 15 Thursday, March 20 Saturday, March 29 Saturday, April 5

Man Tracking. Jim McMillion Home 928-476-2078 Cell 928-970-2451

None scheduled

Rope Training Roger Miotto 928-978-0783 rogerrescuesarge@msn.com

March 15, Saturday, Mission style Rope Training, call out will be at 0730.

Swift Water Paul Morgan 928-474-5981 petextor@yahoo.com

None scheduled for March, but training is planned for April. The date, time, and location to be announced.

Navigation. Jim Oelerich 602-370-9785 jim.oelerich@gmail.com

March 27, Thursday, 1600 hours Location: Houston Mesa Trailhead.

Squad General Meeting – No Training Scheduled for after the meeting

First Aid/CPR Dave Burkhart 623-640-0353 david@cprarizona.com

March 13, Thursday

AHA BLS (Professional Rescuer) CPR/AED Thurs. 0313/14 9am Payson call center Payson, you must email me to register for this class.

SAR Academy.

April 12-13, Saturday & Sunday. 0800-1600 hours each day. Location: Tonto Basin Elementary School in Tonto Basin.

Mock Mission

April 19. Saturday. Location: FR 409 in Punkin Center area. Time to be announced. Helicopter safety training will occur just prior to mission activities.

K-9 Handlers Seminar.

July 8th. Payson. More information to come

Training Coordinator: Gary Morris 602-803-7366 mercurymorris@hotmail.com


If you haven't already gotten new business cards with Sheriff Adam Shepherd listed instead of former Sheriff John Armer, contact Mike Taylor. miket@trsar.org



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