I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kane County for their support in a recent search and rescue that occurred near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon this past Christmas Eve. Kane County residents should be proud of their first responders, their medical and hospital staff, and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office. Were it not for their cooperation and the commitment of so many people, we would be grieving a “Christmas Tragedy” rather than celebrating a “Christmas Miracle.”
This past Christmas Eve, a number of Kane County residents were part of the “Christmas Miracle.” Eric Klein, his wife Karen, and their son Isaac became stranded in their vehicle south of Fredonia, in the Kaibab National Forest. Their vehicle became stuck in the mud attempting to find an alternate route to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon due to winter closure of State Route 67.
Their attempts to get their vehicle unstuck were unsuccessful. With no cell phone coverage and no way to communicate with anyone, the family decided that Karen would walk out of the area to the south, on what they believed was a nine-mile trek, to get help. As the afternoon wore on, snow began falling. Eric and his son Isaac attempted to follow Karen, but turned back and returned to their vehicle when the snow became deeper and temperatures dropped.
Meanwhile, Karen continued walking south. The snow reached depths of three feet in some areas and the temperature continued to drop. Karen spent the night walking and resting. She had only some granola bars, cheerios, and a bottle of water. Throughout the next day she continued to walk in the snow. By this time, she had traveled well beyond the nine miles she expected.
Eric and Isaac spent the night in the stuck vehicle. Friday morning, Eric left Isaac with the vehicle and walked north to higher ground in an attempt to gain cell phone service. At approximately 2 p.m., Eric made contact with Kane County 911 Dispatch. He relayed information regarding their situation and told them Karen had walked to the south attempting to get help.
Kane County Dispatch contacted the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office in Flagstaff and relayed the information. Rescue efforts were begun immediately. Knowing that we had an estimated response of some five hours from Flagstaff with our snow equipment, we asked for assistance from Kane County resources.
A BLM Law Enforcement Officer located Eric and Isaac in the late afternoon. Kane County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue snowmobile team led by Sheriff Tracy Glover extracted Eric and Isaac. They were transported to Kane County Hospital for treatment of cold related injuries and frostbite.
The BLM officer followed Karen’s tracks as far as he could in his vehicle. The Sheriff and Search and Rescue snowmobile team from Kane County continued following Karen Klein’s tracks throughout the evening hours and into the early morning hours of Christmas Eve. In places, the tracks were becoming covered by blowing and drifting snow.
While Sheriff Glover and his team were following tracks from the vehicle south on Forest Road 22, Commander Rex Gilliland from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office was leading the Coconino Search and Rescue units in on snow cats on State Route 67. The search units from both counties planned to meet near the entrance station for the Grand Canyon North Rim.
Just after midnight, Kane County Sheriff Glover and his SAR team located Karen in a cabin at the entrance station. She was suffering from extreme exhaustion and frostbite. Commander Gilliland and Coconino’s SAR team arrived shortly thereafter, and Karen was transported by snow cat north to an awaiting ambulance south of Jacob Lake.
The care provided by the staff at the hospitals in Kanab and St. George was exceptional. Hospital staff found clothes for young Isaac and took excellent care of the Klein family. They were extremely accommodating and supportive working with the first responders, investigators, and the family.
Other agencies also provided assistance to this search and rescue effort, including the Arizona Department of Transportation snow plow drivers, who cleared portions of State Route 67 to reduce response time; National Park Service staff; and the Kaibab National Forest staff.
Karen Klein walked over 26 miles in extreme weather conditions before her rescue. She was reunited with her family on Christmas Eve in what seemed to be a miracle. It was through the efforts of everyone who played a role in this rescue that Karen is alive today and celebrated her 47th birthday at the end of December. Deepest gratitude goes to the people of Kane County.
Jim Driscoll, Sheriff
copied with permission from Southern Utah News