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Phone call from missing Zion hiker gave rescuers hope

Posted at 5:05 PM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-04 19:23:04-04

SPRINGDALE, Utah — 79-year-old John Burg was reported overdue on Wednesday of last week, and after spending days in Zion National Park, rescuers were able to locate him alive.

Zion National Park said in a news release on Saturday that Burg was able to make a phone call on Friday night to a family member and 9-1-1 dispatch.

“We knew that because he was able to get a signal that he was high enough up, and of course anyone that’s done slot canyoneering in Zion knows that if you’re actually down in a deep slot, there’s zero coverage anywhere, so we knew that he had to be pretty close to the top of the slot somewhere," said Daniel Fagergren, Chief Ranger at Zion National Park. “It gave us a great deal of hope. It infused the entire operation with hope that he was still alive and in desperate need of help, and that gave us the renewed energy to re-double our efforts the following day, and as I’d like to say, we pulled out all the stops.”

One of the "stops" that search and rescue crews were able to tap into: Helicopters from Nellis Air Force Base.

"You don’t really ever want to have to do your job because that means someone else is having a really bad day," said Capt. Tanner Bennett, Flight Lead with the 66th Rescue Squadron out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. "It just makes you feel really good when you know you can execute to that level and bring someone home.”

Captain Bennett said his helicopters came across a tarp that had been strung up at an elevation of nearly 5,700 feet. He says they circled the area again, and Burg opened up the tarp and began to wave at them. That's when they were able to set up the hoist operation to extract Burg from the area.

Burg needed "serious medical attention," according to park staff. He was flown to St. George where he received treatment.

Fagergren says there's been a large uptick in rescue callouts on the east side of Zion National Park. He cautions parkgoers to hike with groups and to stay on designated trails and routes.

“It’s been our busiest on record. As of right now, we’re up to a little over 160 major search and rescues for the year," he said. "We’ve had a total of five fatalities. It’s been one for the record books for sure.”