Blue Ridge, AZ – The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office recently conducted a search and rescue operation over a five-day period for two lost persons east of the Hutch Mountain area. One person was located alive (a 35-year-old female of Winslow, AZ), the other person was located deceased (38-year-old Ryan Long of Leupp, AZ).
On Thursday, March 7 the Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from a female who was only gave her name before the call disconnected. The 911 call center was unable to get any location information from the dropped call or determine what the caller was trying to report. Later, the 911 center received a call from the mother of the initial caller, who was able to provide more information.
The mother’s call came in around 5:30 pm on March 7. The woman requested assistance in locating her lost daughter and male friend. The mother explained she received a call from her daughter around 11:00 am that morning. The only information provided by the daughter was that she and her friend (Ryan Long) left Meteor Crater that morning and the vehicle they were driving had become stuck and disabled. The daughter told her mother she could see a “lake” and requested her mother pick them up. The mother drove to the Lake Mary and Mormon Lake area south of Flagstaff to look for her daughter, and she called the Sheriff’s Office after she could not find them. The mother was not certain her daughter and friend were in the Lake Mary area but had driven there based off the statement her daughter made about seeing a lake.
A Sheriff’s Deputy called Ryan Long’s cell phone and spoke with him to try to get additional information about their location and situation. Long was uncooperative, providing little information and hung up on the deputy. The Sheriff’s Office made repeated attempts to re-contact the missing people on their cell phone, but the cell phone had been turned off. Through the investigation, deputies learned that Long may have a dislike of law enforcement.
A Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Coordinator contacted Long’s cellular provider in an attempt to determine the location of Long and the female who were reported missing. Search and Rescue initially received two possible locations of cell towers the phone had accessed, one was a tower near Strawberry, AZ and the other was a tower in the Blue Ridge area off State Route 87. The cell tower information was inconsistent with other information gathered and did not help in narrowing the search area. No search operations were conducted that night.
On Friday, March 8 the Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Coordinator continued the investigation with the cellular provider and families of the two missing persons. Deputies searched the roads that were accessible south and east of Meteor Crater, but did not locate Ahasteen, Long or their vehicle. Deputies received information that Long believed he may have an arrest warrant and would likely avoid law enforcement.
New information from the cellular provider about the last activity from Long’s cell phone was obtained. The information still had many inconsistencies showing possible locations ranging from the top of the Mogollon Rim to south of Mormon Lake. However, some of the new location information showed consistency in cell phone activity in and around an area known as “Bargaman Park” near Happy Jack, AZ. This area is approximately 15 miles south of Mormon Lake and on the east side of Lake Mary Road.
The Sheriff’s Office coordinated search and rescue efforts and received assistance from several other agencies. Deputies and a fire crew from the Coconino National Forest Mogollon Ranger District responded to the area of Bargaman Park and began a search of the roads. Search efforts were severely hindered by deep snow, extremely muddy conditions, and an incoming storm that was producing intermittent precipitation and a heavy, low cloud ceiling. Travel in the area could only be accomplished using vehicles outfitted with specialty tracks. The storm and cloud cover prevented the use of a helicopter or airplane.
Around 3:00 pm, the Coconino National Forest crew located the lost female alive and suffering mild hypothermia. She was found on a forest road about 4.6 miles north of Bargaman Park. She was transported out of the forest to Lake Mary Road by a tracked vehicle. A ground ambulance then transported her to Flagstaff Medical Center where she was treated and released. The rescued woman was unfamiliar with the area and not able to provide much information about the route she and Long had travelled.
Throughout the day, Search and Rescue was in communication with the National Weather Service (NWS) staff in Bellemont, AZ. On Friday afternoon, searchers received word from the NWS that there was an expected break in the cloud cover that might allow for a flight over the area. The Arizona Department Public Safety (AZ DPS) helicopter from the Central Air Rescue Unit based in Phoenix, AZ was able to respond and conducted about 40 minutes of searching by air before the storm forced them out of the area. Neither Long or his vehicle were located at that time.
The search was continued on Saturday, March 9 by teams on the ground supported by air operations. Arizona Game and Fish Department had a fixed-wing flight scheduled that day and assisted by flying the area. Neither Long or the vehicle were located at that time.
The search was continued on Sunday, March 10 by teams on the ground supported by air operations. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter from Central Air Rescue Unit based in Phoenix searched by air. The air rescue team located Long’s truck stuck in the mud on a closed forest road approximately 4.8 miles north east of Bargaman Park and approximately 3.6 miles east of where the other missing person had been found. Searchers were unable to locate Long.
The search was continued on Monday March 11, 2019. The ground search was again aided by the DPS Northern Air Rescue Unit. Due to impassible conditions on the ground, ground searchers were transported by helicopter to the location of Long’s truck to search by foot.
Sheriff’s deputies and Search and Rescue volunteers located Long’s tracks in the intermittent snow patches south east of where the woman had been located on Friday. Searchers were able to track Long and found him deceased around 2:15 pm. His body was found about two miles south east of where the woman had been rescued. Evidence of Long’s foot prints indicated he had tried to avoid being tracked by staying off snow and the roads. His body was found approximately 30 yards off a two-track forest road. Deputies believed the two had travelled south from Meteor Crater, through the Chavez Pass area, then west on closed forest roads to the location they became stuck several miles east of Hutch Mountain.
There are no signs of foul play and it appears Long may have died of exposure. Deputies and detectives are continuing the investigation. The Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
This was a multi-day extended search conducted with the assistance of several agencies. Although the outcome was tragic in the loss of one life, one person was saved. The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Coconino National Forest Fire Crew, the Arizona Department of Public Safety Air Rescue Units and the National Weather Service for their support and participation in this search effort.