GILA MOUNTAINS — A hunter spent Friday night at a makeshift campsite in the Gila Mountains after he broke his left leg and injured his knee in a fall.
Shane Howard, 35, was flown out of a remote region of the Gila Mountains known as Grapevine early Saturday morning by an Arizona Department of Public Safety Ranger helicopter and taken to the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center. The area is north of the Safford Mine and is approximately 12 miles northeast of Pima.
He was treated at the hospital and released the same day, but was brought back to see a doctor Monday for a MRI on his knee in preparation for likely surgery, according to his father, John Howard.
“His knee is just total Jello,” John Howard said. “It’s blown out pretty bad. They’ll have to go in and do a lot of repair. He’s all tore up on that leg. It will be a recovery, I’m sure.”
Howard was reportedly scouting the area for an upcoming hunt when he fell approximately 10 feet off a bluff and broke his left leg. He then called his father, who was familiar with the area having hunted it before. The Sheriff’s Office was also contacted at about 2:21 p.m.
Sheriff Allred met with John Howard at the Graham County Search and Rescue command post that was prepared. Allred then advised John Howard and Brent Jacobs, a longtime friend of Shane Howard, to hike in and locate Shane while it was still daylight as SAR members were being assembled. At that time, a DPS Ranger was also requested to assist with extraction due to the harsh terrain.
Around dusk, a DPS helicopter flew its crew and a rescue team member trained in repelling to look for Shane. The crew quickly located a fire with two individuals, Shane and Jacobs, and a saw John Howard approaching the area with a light. The Ranger dropped a flight medic and the rescue team member as close to the scene as he could, and the rescuers hiked roughly 300 yards to the group.
According to Allred, after Howard was evaluated, the decision was made to stay overnight and make an extraction attempt in the daylight due to the dangerous nature of attempting an extraction in the dark with the surrounding terrain. The medic and rescue team member had brought some supplies, including food, water, medication and a blanket, but it was still a bit of an ordeal, according to John Howard.
“We weren’t prepared for it,” he said. “When I went up there, I had no idea I’d be spending the night, but we just couldn’t get the helicopter there before dark and couldn’t get him out of there. So we just spent the night up there, but it wasn’t (any) fun.”
John Howard praised the efforts from the rescuers for taking care of his son throughout the night and keeping him warm and pain-free.
“They knew what they were doing; they really did,” John Howard said. “We’re very thankful for them, that’s for sure.”
He also lamented on what could have been had his son not been able to contact help after his accident.
“If Shane wouldn’t have had a cell phone that had reception there was no telling how this thing would have ended up,” John Howard said. “He was in pretty bad shape; about ready to go into shock and the whole shebang. We were real fortunate, real fortunate.”
The DPS Ranger returned to the scene at first light and lifted Howard with a long rope since they were unable to use the cable wench that previously lowered the rescuers. The medic and rescue team member were also lifted out of the area. John Howard and Jacobs chose to hike back out and met up with SAR members down the trail, who greeted them with hot cocoa and food.