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Dramatic video has captured the successful rescue of a youth group’s 17 kids and two adults from one of Utah’s many slot canyons — and Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins said of the slot canyons, “These are not for the novice.”
The rescue happened at the Sandthrax Canyon, which is located in the southeast, in the Red Rock region of Utah, on Friday morning.
One of the rescuers, Sgt. Nick Napierski with the Utah Department of Public Safety, told Fox News Digital in an interview that the group had been stuck for more than a day before help arrived.
Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins said that aside from being tired and dehydrated, the group was OK — and he credits the skill of the helicopter rescue crew for the successful outcome of the operation to save all 19 people from a space they could not escape on their own.
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The group was made up of mostly 11-year-old and 12-year-old children, plus two adults.
Said Sgt. Nick Napierski of a rescue requiring professional precision like this one and others, “Sometimes we can see them down in the slot, so we have to use thermal imaging — pick up the heat signatures. In this case, we could see [the hikers] as we were flying.”
An image taken from the dramatic video of a rescue pulled off by a highly skilled helicopter crew in Utah on Friday. (Utah Dept. of Public Safety )
“When we spotted them,” he said, “because of the number of people, we opted to set me up with a quick pick set-up, where I have a rescue vest on, I get lowered into the hole and strap them to me — and then the helicopter pulls me back up.”
Napierski continued, “The slot was 110-130 feet up, with a lot of rock overhang. If you’re not careful, you can hit into a wall or hit the rock ledge. You also have to make sure not to rupture a cable — if it hits the sandstone, it could fray.”
He said, “The rescue worked out well, though we typically don’t have 19 people stuck in a hole all at once.”
“From when we picked up the first person to when we pulled up the 19th — 17 children and 2 adults — it took about an hour and 45 minutes.”
“Any time we operate outside any norms like this, we have to reevaluate why we need to do things differently. It is super tight through those jagged overhangs, so to send an empty hook down was not an option.”
Napierski added, “We pulled up the first five [people], then had to stop and rest. It is hard on the helicopter, too. Then we pulled up four more before having to refuel.”
He said that after that, “We knocked out the last 12 [people]. From when we picked up the first person to when we pulled up the 19th — 17 children and 2 adults — it took about an hour and 45 minutes.”
Another screenshot of the dramatic rescue undertaken by a helicopter crew in Garfield County, Utah, late last week. (Utah Dept. of Public Safety )
The children were “exhausted and dehydrated” and “in different levels” of psychological shock when they were rescued, he said. “Some were asking about their moms. When one leader said they were stuck for over 30 hours — these kids were young and this is Navy SEAL type of stuff,” he added, referring to the fact that they were stuck in a confined space for such a long time.
“When they got back to their camp they were in better spirits,” Napierski added.
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He pointed out, “This canyon is very difficult — it is not even for expert canyoneers. But this is what we train for. We have training every other week, where we set up these types of scenarios. It really comes down to a team mentality,” he added. “We do these hoists daily. The team in the aircraft is the bread and butter — and I’m grateful to spotlight them.”
“This canyon is very difficult — it is not even for expert canyoneers.”
Danny Perkins, Garfield County sheriff, told Fox News Digital, “A slot canyon is a canyon that is very, very narrow. Sometimes, [these slot canyons are] just a few inches wide in places, like 12-18 inches. They can go up for a long ways and they’re a little wider at the top.”
He stressed, “These slots are not for the novice. They are very high-skilled types of canyons. I’ve had situations where people get wedged in there and have to get rescued. Just a week before this group got stuck, we had to rescue four people in a slot canyon nearby.”
Said Perkins, “I don’t know exactly how this group got stuck. I believe they were lowered in there. But the only way to get out is to climb back up the slot to where it’s wide enough to guide your way out.”
“Pulling these kids out of the hole was like threading a needle,” Danny Perkins, the sheriff of Garfield County, told Fox News Digital about the daring rescue from one of Utah’s slot canyons. (Utah Dept. of Public Safety )
Perkins also told Fox News Digital, “The helicopter crew that came to rescue the group is one of the most highly trained crews in the United States. Pulling these kids out of the hole was like threading a needle — that’s how they got them out.”
“Besides being tired, the kids were said to be in pretty good shape” when they were rescued.
Perkins said, “I tell people to know your limitations — and for whatever reason it is, people have a hard time with that. They want to go and have this experience. But know your limitations and don’t be cocky, especially if you’re responsible for others.”
“This is the ‘real deal’ in Red Rock country. This area will chew you up … If you get caught in a slot canyon and there is a flood, it could be deadly.”
“This is the ‘real deal’ in Red Rock country. This area will chew you up, with both the heat and later on with monsoon season. If you get caught in a slot canyon and there is a flood, it could be deadly.”
The sheriff emphasized to any others who might be considering a hike or trip of this kind, “Know your surroundings and limitations and do your research. Don’t push it. We want people to have fun, but be safe.”
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“These canyons are so narrow that it’s hard to see to the bottom of them. If we didn’t have the helicopter, I don’t know if the outcome would’ve been the same,” he added.
Christopher Hagedorn, an expert canyoneer and owner of Get In The Wild Adventures of Hanksville, Utah, told Fox News Digital, “Canyoneering is a very specialized sport that requires unique knowledge, training and experience to do safely. When inexperienced groups such as the youth group attempt to descend canyons with limited or no experience — things can go wrong very quickly as it did for this group.”
“If we didn’t have the helicopter, I don’t know if the outcome would’ve been the same.”
He also said, “Slot canyons are dynamic systems that continuously change from one flash flood to the next. Hazards can both appear and disappear after each flash flood — which means that canyoneers must be able to overcome any obstacle that they encounter.”
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“It’s for these reasons and more,” added Hagedorn, “that beginners should seek out professional guides to teach them the requisite skills to both descend canyons safely and to know essential rescue skills should something go wrong, and they need to rescue themselves.”
“Take the challenges mentioned above and increase them a few orders of magnitude — this is the challenge and danger of Sandthrax Canyon.”
“Like [in] most technical sports, canyoneers utilize a Canyon Rating System that helps define the challenge level, difficult and risk of specific canyoneering routes. This group may have been attempting to descend nearby Leprechaun Canyon — not Sandthrax.”
While “Leprechaun is a beginner-level technical canyoneering route … Sandthrax is one of the most difficult technical slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau.”
Hagedorn added, “In Sandthrax, ill-prepared and inexperienced canyoneers start descending the canyon, rappel down and quickly find they are way over their heads and can’t descend or retrace their steps. They are trapped.”
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“When navigating to an area where one of the easiest canyons and hardest canyons are one ridgeline away, descending into the wrong canyon can quickly result in a rescue operation — which is what has been reported to have happened to this group.”