|Friday, Apr 23, 2010|
Park dispatch received a report of an overdue hiker on the remote and strenuous Marufo Vega Trail on the morning of Friday, April 9th. The hiker, 34-year-old J. Meyers of Austin, Texas, had been issued a permit for a three day hike. The park plane was dispatched and searched the area without success. As temperatures had been in the 90’s for several days, a hasty ground search team started hiking the trail. A horse team was also assembled and started up the trail with medical supplies and extra water. A Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter joined the search of the narrow steep canyons. Later that afternoon, the crew of the helicopter spotted an unusual blue object on a canyon floor, while the crew of a park plane spotted what turned out to be an orange sleeping bag in the same canyon. Ground searchers were directed to the location and found the missing hiker. They learned that Meyers had become lost on his first day out and wandered the open desert in search of the trail. By day three, he was desperate for water and begun descending washes in an attempt to reach the Rio Grande, which he could see in the distance. As his desperation grew, Meyers climbed down into a steep canyon, believing it lead to the river, but found that it lead only to a 70-foot pour-off above the river. He was trapped – he could see the river below, but could not climb back up the canyon wall. To keep from dehydrating, Meyers chewed the juice out of cacti and took advantage of shade from the canyon walls. He also spelled out the word “Help” with rocks and lit a small fire, hoping it might be seen from a plane. Rangers rappelled into the canyon and then rappelled with him to the canyon floor below, where they were picked up by the DPS helicopter. Despite having filed a backcountry plan, Meyer had changed his plan at the last minute without telling anyone and took only enough water for one day. He did not have proper topographic maps, a compass, GPS, or any other recommended supplies. Without sufficient food and water, it is likely that he would not have survived another 24 hours. Employees from various divisions assisted along with park volunteers and DPS and US Border Patrol personnel. Ranger Joe Roberts was IC.