Christopher Hensley, 34, left home on April 15th for a hike in the Flat Iron portion of the Superstition Mountains. He had made the hike before and had made it to the bottom of Flat Iron in an hour and a half. His goal that day was to hike to the top.
At ten o'clock the night of April 15th after Mr. Hensley had not returned home, his wife called the Pinal County Sheriff's Office and reported her husband missing. She was told by a deputy that he had 400 phone calls to make to get a search and rescue team and helicopter out.
The following day, Mrs. Hensley had been informed that the PCSO did not send out a helicopter or search team.
Mrs. Hensley was then informed that four members of PCSO Search and Rescue Team did go out looking for her husband for several hours and upon returning, they sat for four hours and Mrs. Hensley asked the reason they stopped searching for her husband, and she was told that it's part of the process.
Mrs. Hensley told the PCSO crew leader the area her husband was hiking and the intersection where he entered the park. The search team doubted her and explained that her husband would not have gone in that way because it was too dangerous.
For four days, the Search and Rescue Team searched the wrong area and told Mrs. Hensley that they did not have the insurance coverage to go where she told them her husband was, and that it was too windy for a helicopter.
Mrs. Hensley states that the PCSO issued press releases about the search but that their statements are inaccurate. In the first release, the PCSO stated that Mr. Hensley was unfamiliar with the area because he'd never hiked there before, but as said above, Mrs. Hensley said that her husband had hiked that area previously.
The PCSO also released statements saying that Mr. Hensley never informed anyone of where he was going, and they claimed, falsely, that they searched longer than they actually did.
Mrs. Hensley made several calls to the PCSO during the search and did not receive many call-backs informing her of the progress, so she drove up to the search and rescue numerous times for updates.
She had been informed that they would send the helicopter out, 50 to 60 rescue members out and search dogs, but in reality, they sent 3 people, no dogs, and no helicopter.
On Thursday, April 18th, Mrs. Hensley discovered the Superstition Search and Rescue - SSAR, and she contacted them, gave them the information, the identical information she had given to the PCSO, and within two and one half hours, SSAR found Mr. Hensley's body.
Mrs. Hensley believes that had the PCSO rescue team listened to her and searched where she told them he was going that her husband would have been found sooner and might still be alive.
This is not the first time that a hiker has been lost in the Superstition Mountains or the surrounding area.
The Superstition Search and Rescue is an all-volunteer search team and they found Mr. Hensley within two and a half hours after being contacted by Mrs. Hensley, but it was Sheriff Babeu who took the credit and the SSAR was not mentioned in the press release.
The SSAR has worked along with the PCSO for years, until Sheriff Babeu won the election as sheriff in 2008.
Republican Paul Babeu had asked the SSAR to endorse him for sheriff, but the SSAR is a nonprofit organization and as a nonprofit they are prohibited from endorsing candidates and prohibited from becoming involved in politics.
Paul Babeu was not pleased.
Once Sheriff Babeu was elected, SSAR was tossed to the side and Babeu formed his own Search and Rescue team.
Taxpayers of Pinal County lost the expertise of SSAR and the volunteer team.
The PCSO Search and Rescue Team have coordinated successful rescue teams, but there are high profile cases in which they failed.
Jeff Block, 58, was reported missing July 26, 2012 and the PCSO did not return calls from his brother. Dan Block stated at the time that had the PCSO responded that it would have saved his family and more than 100 volunteers that searched for Mr. Block. It took two weeks for volunteers searching the desert before Mr. Block's body was found in the Salt River Canyon.
UPDATE Mr. Block was not a hiker. He had left with his dog, and his vehicle went off the road into the Salt River Canyon. Unlike the statements from Dan Block in the links from the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon News, here is the link to the story from another source that does not mention the PCSO non-response to the missing report filed by Mr. Block's brother, Dan.
Raymond Churchill, 26, was reported missing by his fiancee, Crystal Hayes, on January 1, 2010. The PCSO searched for two days and found nothing and then Ms. Hayes contacted SSAR, and Mr. Churchill's body was recovered within an hour.
September 2009, Kelly Tate was reported missing and the PCSO led a search party of more than 150 volunteers who walked on foot, rode horses and chartered a helicopter. After five days, PCSO called off the search and SSAR was called and Mr. Tate's body was recovered 150 yards from the parking lot where the PCSO had set up a command center.
Sheriff Babeu has requested $12 Million more dollars for his budget but the question remains - Why doesn't Sheriff Babeu save the taxpayers by utilizing the free services of the expert search and rescue SSAR?
The families of other missing individuals have repeatedly expressed that the Sheriff's team doesn't know what the hell they are doing and wouldn't communicate or cooperate with them.Apache Junction news - Search Party
Superstition Search and Rescue is a private volunteer service organization dedicated to wilderness and urban search and rescue in Arizona. The non-profit was originally formed in 1981 and are one of the most successful search teams in Arizona history. They currently have approximately 25 volunteers who sacrifice their time and personal resources to assist those in need.Apache Junction News - Guest Commentary