Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Havasupai Flood, August 17th, 2008

This will be my report on the happenings and my experiences during the flash floods of Aug 17th-18th. Before getting into it I want to open with a quick reminder to scroll down and read the previous blog about Havasupai if you’re not familiar with the area because I have already given an explanation of the area in that blog. It’s just a blurb about my trip down there (except for the flood part) and a little description of the area. If you are familiar with the Havasupai area and still want to go down and read it feel free to.

On Saturday, August 16th around 4:30 - 5:00 pm a few thunderclouds passed over us and dropped a light amount of rain on the campground. It wasn't much and only lasted about ten minutes. The sky remained cloudy on and off the rest of the afternoon but not much rain fell. About 6:00 pm a couple of native Havasupai came through camp letting all the campers know that a flash flood warning had been issued for the area and was in affect until 10:00 pm that night. They also told people swimming in the pools at Mooney falls to come back up to camp and not go back into the water. About a half hour later, one of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) officers came through on a four wheeler cautioning people to be prepared. Campers were cautioned to consider moving to higher ground. Even though we were informed of the flood and cautioned to be prepared it was done in a casual manner and felt as if it were more a "heads up" type warning. Some of the campers asked Havasupai and officer what to expect and, from their account, they were informed the river would only rise about two to three feet, if it did at all. At that time the river running through the campground had turned a redish-brown and looked like the river flowing through Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Dad and I hiked up to Havasu falls and it was still that beautiful turquoise blue. However, right next to Havasu falls is another little side canyon that meets up with Havasu canyon and a river was now flowing through what was once a dry washbed. Just below Havasu falls is where the two rivers connected and the color change took place. It wasn't a gradual color change either but a sharp distinction of color separation.

With the extra water the river had risen but only about a foot. From there we hiked down to the top of Mooney falls to see the change the new color had brought about.

The falls were still a spectacular sight but instead of a white water falling into a blue pool it looked like twist flavored soft serve ice cream coming from the machine. The pool and the river downstream had turned that red0brown color as well. Before the change in color you could see where the pool ended and the river began because of the travertine formations that created the pools. These were no longer visible. Quite a spectacular sight to witness. After that all thought that that would be the end of the "flooding". Havasu was still blue and the flood had come from the adjacent canyon and looked to be slowing. Without any more rain falling everyone thought that we were in the clear.

12:30 am - 1:00 am: I was awaken by someone shaking my tent and saying "there's been another flood, get up." I slowly dressed and got out of the tent to check things out. I walked over to the river about 150 feet away from our camp and saw that the river had risen about five feet and was now running at what seemed to be 25-30 mph. I told Dad to come check it out and we decided to pack everything up. We were still on one of the higher spots of the campground and it would take substantially more water to even threaten our camp, but we thought to be on the safe side and just be prepared. After striking the campsite we wandered down the camp and talked with a few of the other campers. What we saw completely took us by surprise. We came to a pint in the camp where the river had overflowed its banks and had washed away peoples tents, gear, and camps. This was about 300-350 feet downstream from our camp. One of the high grounds just down from that was turned into an island with the river raging on both sides of it. You could see people's headlights and flashlights moving around on that island as they scrambled to pack everything up and try to keep it dry. They even built a little campfire on that island for light and warm (with the rising river and increased speed of it, it brought a little chill through the camp). Everyone downstream from that spot and those who had camped on the other side of the river to begin with were immediately cut off from the rest of us, and the way out. We noticed that the foam and debris from the initial surge that came through was about 2-3 feet above the current water level and most of us thought that it had reached it's highest point. We hiked up to Havasu falls to see if we could see anything in the dark and you could just hear the increase in power that the water was falling. Looking over a ledge you could also see the river had risen and now spanned the entire length from the canyon wall to that ledge wall (it doubled in width basically). Looking at the falls you could see that the mist from the falls was rising well above the initial height of the falls.

We back to camp and continued talking with some of the campers. We learned of a group of five young adults who had crossed the river from their campsite, just five minutes before the flood, so that they could fill up their water bottles for the night from the spring. Now they were cut off from the other three members of their group. Sadly this group had camped right next to the bank on a lower part of the camp and when the surge came through it took everything they had. Tents, backpack, clothes, wallets, car keys, cameras, everything was swept downstream. The other three had to scramble to higher ground while watching their stuff disappear and knowing they were trapped while their friends were on the other side. The five that were on our side of the river yelled back across to let their friends know they were all right. These five were given a couple of mats and sleeping bags so that they could try to get some sleep.

At this point Dad and I returned back to our original campsite and tried to catch a few minutes of sleep. Dad slept on top of the picnic table while I crashed on it's bench. About 3:00 am a group of people came by led by a guy named Benny and said that they were Rescue One. They informed us that everything seemed to be stable at the time but were numbering off all the people that they could account for. This Benny was actually a guy who has worked in many search and rescue events and was camping down there at the time. He organized the group of campers in the site next to him as the Rescue One. About a half hour later this group came back saying that we were to move to higher ground. This higher ground was at the horse stables just outside of the camp. It really wasn't much higher than where we were at already. I again walked over to the river bank from our camp to see and it had risen another five to six feet from the last time it rose. Everyone moved up there and the people on the other side were told to seek higher ground themselves if they could. Unfortunately we had to leave those people trapped on the other side. There was nothing we could do to help them. The waters had risen too high and were flowing to fast for anything to be done.

We moved up to the horse area and then immediately told that we needed to move to even higher ground because the river was still rising. We hiked back up the trail past Havasu falls and grouped together in a the cemetery that is just upstream. Historically this was the highest ground nearby and has never flooded, that's why the cemetery set there.

4:00 am: So here we are at the cemetery. Benny circles everyone around him and tries to answer the questions that were being asked. Just listening to the questions and hearing the voices with which they were asked you could sense the fear in some of the people. Now this was my first flash flood experience but I've grown up hiking and camping and being in the back country so I felt that I was somewhat prepared to handle what would come. However, some of the people were over from Europe of back east and have never experienced this type of thing before, nor grew up knowing what to do in these type of situations. That, coupled with the fear of not being able to see the river at that time and not knowing if it would continue to rise, helped to escalate the tension and fear felt by many of the campers. Dad and I were sitting next to the group of five that had been separated from their friends and gear. They had nothing on but swim trunks, short sleeve shirts, and shoes; nothing else. I brought our bags over to them and we gave them our sleeping bags, air pads, a hoodie, two jackets, couple pairs of pants, and some dry clothes so they could at least stay warm. We found out that they were from the Provo area and we told them to stick with us and we would help them get home and help accommodate them with what they needed. As dawn was coming and the sky was starting to lighten up I walked over to the edge of the cemetery to check out the river. You could make out the rapids and the level of the river in the dim light. It looked like it had grown five or six times it's original width and height. There was a constant rumble from the river that sounded like thunder off the canyon walls and you could feel the vibration through the ground. It's banks we probably a good 75 feet away and down from where we were at. I repeat by saying that the roar of the river sounded like thunder. You could also hear what sounded like lighting as the force of the river was so powerful to uproot or snap full grown trees and carry them down river. It truly was a sight seeing tree after tree being swept away. This sight those caused us to worry about those still caught in the campground area. The massive amount of debris flowing through could easy knock someone into the river or kill them instantly.

At this time we could see lights from the canyon walls and hilltops nearby. The main trail that campers hike in by was inundated and the two foot bridges that cross the river were blown away by this massive river but there are a couple of trails along the cliffs that the locals used. These are "secret" trails I guess you could say and were a back way in and out of the canyon. From there the locals had come down to check out what was going on and to help where needed. They made it all the way to the campground and started helping some people cross the river. This rescue happened later on from when we were in the cemetery but I'll add it hear while talking about the back trails and the locals. The three young adults stranded from their five companions were just some of the people who were saved by these tribe members. At the time the river started to rise even higher, after we had left, these people had to scramble up trees and stand on top of picnic tables and hang on to trees for their lives. They stuck in these trees for over five hours, half in the water and half in the tree. They had lost their shoes and some of the clothes they were wearing. The story from one of them was that a couple of tribe members came to where they were at and helped them crossed. One was told to jump from her position in the tree and extend her arm so that the Indian could catch her. With hesitation she trusted him and leaped into the water (it's speed had increased with the additional rise and was now estimated to be flowing around 35-40 mph) She says that she jumped in and went completely under expect for her right hand, which had been caught by the native there to help her. He pulled her to shore and continued to help others. Others crossed in similar ways. I also heard that there were attempts at using ropes to help get other across but I'm not completely sure about those details. Another young man caught in a tree had to actually move to another one because the debris hitting his caused it to start to break. He said that massive trunks would just slam into his tree and knock it around. He also stated that at various times he saw chuck of rock and mud the size of cars just being swept away through the river.

5:00 am: Back at the cemetery and before the local natives had made it down to the campground light was starting to illuminate the river and our surroundings. It was impressive. It looked like the Colorado flowing through Cataract Canyon. Just a series of rises and troughs as the river carved it's way down the canyon. Finding this secret trail we started climbing up the cliffs behind us to safer ground. The water now was at the cemetery edges. We found a canyon in the cliffs with a path to climb up and ropes to assist us. This was used by the locals when they came that way into the cemetery. We formed a support line up the wall to help those campers who would struggle climbing up. People were informed to leave what they had and to only take what they needed. Not many headed this call so it caused the climb to be delayed. Everyone got up and sat on the cliffs watching this amazing feet of nature that took a calm, smooth flowing, blue river surrounded by lush vegetation and in a matter of hours turned it into the floods of Noah. By this time the Indians had scouts and walkie talkies along that trail and were informing everyone to hike back to the village that was about two miles away, using the back trails. While the others started the hike Dad and I climbed back down the cliffs to get our gear that we had left behind and to help anyone else that was still down there. Before this I gave my day pack to the group of five and told them to head to the village and that we would meet them there shortly. I initially packed this packed at 12:30 am when the first flood came through so that I had the essentials handy in case we had to quickly move. It consisted of two camelbacks full of water, two or three bags of trail mix, a couple of granola bars and powerbar gel packs, camera, gps handheld, wallet, and car keys. I already had my multi tool and flashlight with me so I kept those. Because we had unpacked all our gear to give to this group we left it there while we climbed up the cliffs. After everyone was up the wall we climbed back down to get it. The waters hadn't risen in a while and were still not posing a danger to where we were at. In fact, I don't believe the waters rose much more after that. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it over to see how this had affected Havasu falls but some people that I met did and got some amazing pictures.

We got back up the cliffs and hiked the two miles back to the village, catching up with many of the campers. Hiking bike we found another cemetery, hiked through people's corn fields, climbed through barbed wire fences, and through muddy washes that had been created earlier that night when the initial flood hit. Part of the village close to the Havasu Creek was inundated as well but the main part went unscathed. While hiking back I could see Navajo Falls. It was completely covered in mud and only a trickle of water was coming down.
About twenty minutes later I saw the reason why but didn't realize it was the cause until the next day. While hiking along I heard this sound that I thought were the initial helicopters in to rescue those down stream. It was to constant though to be choppers. I looked up and saw above the tree line another waterfall, one that didn't just a day earlier. At the time I had no idea where we were at in relation to the river but it was too big to have been missed if it existed previously. I couldn't see where it came from or where it was going but it was like a mini, muddy Niagara.
We made it back to the village and met up with the group that we were helping out. I went to the store and bought a couple things of gatorade for them and Dad went to the cafe where we got some food. The trail mix, granola bars, etc were all gone by the time we met back up with them because we told them what was in the pack and to eat what they needed.

9:00 am: We're now back at camp and relatively safe. The first chopper on seen was the AirWest chopper which was the privately run chartered helicopter used by the locals to get supplies. It started flying down the canyon to evacuate those cut off downstream. A couple of Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) choppers arrived and continued the air evacuation. The first people to be rescues back to the village by the helicopters arrived around 10:00 am or so. Talking with some of them I learned that a large group had been able to gather at the cliffs of Mooney falls away from the flood waters. We were grateful that those people made it there safely because if they had gotten swept away they would have gone over that 200 foot waterfall. (For a youtube video of the flood over Mooney go to it was taken by one of the people stranded down there). Others who didn't make it down to Mooney were able to climb the cliffs into some caves. Those trapped on the island (a group of 11-12 year old scouts and others) had to spend part of the night in trees as well until they could be air evacked out. These boys came back completely exhausted, dehydrated, and scared. It was not hard to look at their faces and see the fear and terror that they went through.

10:30 am: News spread through the camp that the Redlands dam about 30 miles upstream had broke and another flash flood potential existed, one that could even threaten the main part of the village. I went over and talked with the evacuation coordinator who was also the onsite FEMA coordinator to get a little clarification on the rumor. He informed me that one of the helicopter pilots had flown over the dam to assess the situation and reported that it had broke but that it was not affecting the height of the water to a worrisome level. The main focus at this point was getting all those still trapped downstream out of the current danger they were in. About 11:30 am or so the three remaining people from that separated group made it to the village. They were air lifted out from their spot and dropped off at the cemetery, from there they had to hike back to the village, two of them not having shoes. When they arrived they were beaten, bruised, and exhausted. I attended to them the best that I could and gave them some pain meds (Mortin and Tylenol) that we had in our first aide kit.

Noon: By this time I believed that everyone that they could account for were rescued from the campground and back at the village, of course there was no way of being 100% certain. A group of hikers that started hiking out before the flood hit were also brought back to the village by the choppers. The had made it past the village and were headed up the canyon to the parking lot when they were trapped by flood waters as well. We were told that choppers would soon be coming to get us out. There were over 200 campers there and so I knew that it was going to be a long, long time before we even set foot on the bird. So we just had to make due with what we had. About 12:30 pm we were moved to a place in the village that would be large enough for Blackhawks to land and told to form a single file line. "The choppers will be here soon," we were told. An hour and a half later the first one landed. We were moved from our spots in the shade into an open field and waited next to a fence for an hour in the noon day sun. This was the sign of what was going to be a very frustrating afternoon. The organization of this air evacuation was that of poor, poor quality. No information was being given to the group, "just going to have to wait," we were told. Now where we were lined up waiting for the Blackhawks to arrive was right next to the landing pad, 75 feet away. Anyone who has been near a helicopter when it lands know of the massive dust they kick up while landing. Now imagine behind 75 feet away from a military Blackhawk landing in a dusty dirt field; a little annoying.
After it took off the coordinator decided that we probably should move back and form the line farther away from the LZ. "No kidding," I said to my Dad, "You'd think they would have thought of that in the first place." One of the guys we were helping out looked at me and said, "Let me tell what was wrong with that last sentence of yours. You started with the phrase, 'You'd think'." We all got a good laugh out of that. Now we were told that the Blackhawks would be taking ten people at a time and that three would be used in the effort. However, when the first Blackhawk arrived it only took six and the second one only took seven. The "third" never even showed up, contrary to the reports you might have heard from the Cococino County Sheriff on the news. The other two DPS helicopters also assisted in air lifting people out but they could only take three or four at a time. They also had to stop in the afternoon because the pilots had passed their fourteen hour flight limit due to their part in the rescue downstream and the time it takes to fly to and back from Phoenix, where they were sent from. It was about a fifteen minute turnout from take off to return for the Blackhawks and from touchdown to take off they averaged five minutes to load. So you do the math; two Blackhawks, fifteen-twenty minute intervals, six-eight people at a time, and over 200 people to evacuate equates for a long, long wait in line for those of us located near the rear. We left our bags and went and sat in the shade. I would occasionally go and moved them as the line progressed but returned back to the shade.

When the first Blackhawks arrived they brought some police officers from another local tribe to help with crowd control. I went over and started talking with them and they told me they had no clue what was going on and they were as just in the dark as we were. They were a couple of good guys and I talked with them through the remainder of the day. I was informed by them though of something rather interesting and disturbing. Although two army Blackhawks were being used, evacuation wasn't being run by the government. In fact, it was being run by the local tribe leaders and was only being assisted by the government. So it was the tribe council man who decided what route the evacuation would take place. Well around 4:00 pm or 5:00 pm we were informed that they were going to start evacuating the local tribe people before the rest of the campers. This wasn't a forced evacuation of the tribe members but those who chose to go could. So while we had waited in line to board the choppers for hours, many of the tribe members that chose to evacuate came up to the front of the line with wheel barrels of their personal property, pets, and whatnots and boarded the Blackhawks.

Now I need to explain a concept before I continue. There is a private helicopter service that provides transportation for supplies and the Indians in and out of the canyon. It is contracted out through the tribe. On the days the helicopter flies tourist can use this service as well for a fee. It provides a different perspective of the canyon on the way out if you don't want to hike back up. It cuts a four hour hike down to four minutes and provides spectacular views. It's run on a first come first serve basis so tourist need to get to the helipad early and sign up. However, because it is there for the Indians they have first pick if they want. That means that you could be waiting for two hours to get on and if a local needed to use it to get out they got to jump to the front of the line. This is a totally acceptable concept because it is for them really, it's just a convenience for tourist.

I asked the FEMA guy who was "organizing" (I use that term loosely because there was very little organization, if any, that existed. No information was being passed along, people were moved from shade to sun an hour before the first chopper arrived, groups weren't organized so that the loading of the choppers would run more efficiently, etc) why the villagers were being able to play that "first pick" card when these were military helicopters and this was an evacuation. He told me that because the evacuation was being run by the tribal council, and that that decision to evacuate the locals first was made by them, that's what they were doing. I also asked why there was a need to evacuate the villagers, was there an imminent danger to them or the village? He told me not at the present moment but more flash flood warnings were predicted for the next couple of days so they decided to evacuate the villagers as well.

Now you can only imagine how us campers felt about this little decision. Many people were irate. There was no imminent danger to the village. They were passing up the people who had been caught in the flood, no means of communication to the outside world to inform family members that they were all right, many had lost their gear in the flood and only came out with what they were wearing, people not familiar with the land to evacuate those who had lived for years, had a community that could support those who were affected by the flood, who had places to stay with food to eat, didn't have flights to catch or drives to make or family to inform, and weren't waiting in line for five hours up until that point. There was a lot of speculation as to why that decision was made and why the government didn't step in and say that this was unacceptable and the first priority were to be the campers and tourist since there was no immediate danger to the village. Those speculations were made and everyone is entitled to form their own opinion but I won't be commenting on any of them because this blog is intended to inform what happened, not why it happened.

One thing that I want to comment on though is an incident with the local government doctor assigned to work in the village of Supai. He was part of the group that elected to leave when the locals got to leave. Just before he got on the chopper I stopped him and asked him a question about a person in our group that had a somewhat series medical condition that required her to take a medication every day, that medication being washed away. Now I knew about that condition and her medication through my studies as a PA student (just starting my second year) but didn't feel comfortable giving her advice because of the type of medication it was. As I explained to him her condition he looked at me without taking his hand off his suitcase and explained that he didn't have any and said "She'll be fine for at least three days without it," then turned and got on the chopper. I just stood there in amazement at how this man, this medical professional, had absolutely no regard nor compassion for this young woman. Now he was right, the medication has a long half life and will remain in her system for a couple of days and there really was nothing he could do about it, but to see him turn tail and run onto the helicopter while there were still over a hundred campers and tourists waiting to be evacuated made me extremely upset. I would like to think that those of us who go into the medical profession do/did it because of our desire to care and help others. It's only common to place the needs of others above our own desires and needs. How could he just leave everyone there to save his own tail? What if something happened to someone that required medical attention after he had left? He is a government paid doctor assigned to that village, and yet, his oath as a doctor meant nothing at that time. Every man for himself it seems to be. For those of you reading this and are in the health profession I hope that you went into it for the reason of helping and serving, and not just the big paycheck. I helped attend to some of the wounded and a couple of other doctors who were camping there did too, but the village doctor who was getting paid didn't. In these situations it takes us to overcome ourselves and even disregard our own desires and need to attend to those in need of help. Sometimes that requires that we let them go first in the evacuation so that if an emergency does arise later, we are there to help.

Eventually the choppers had to refuel and were gone for about an hour to an hour and a half. They eventually returned and started shuttling people out. During the time they also brought supplies, like bottled water, for those of us still stranded. Of course the local store was still open and you could still go and purchase items to eat and drink...that is if you still had your wallet and it wasn't swept away. Eventually the Red Cross made a deal with the store to put everything from that point on on credit and it would be reimbursed so the refugees didn't have to pay for supplies.

Now there were officials on site, like BIA officers, local police and sheriff, but what they were doing we have the faintest clue. They weren't passing along any information (and we were wondering if they were getting any from up top) nor were they controlling the local tribes horses that were running wild through the camp, many times through our line and almost taking out half a dozen people. Again, no organization. You would see them ride around on four wheelers and sit down and talk. Now the police officers were only brought in to keep the crowd under control and didn't have much authority to do anything else so I'm not including them in with those people who were not taking charge when they should have. Plus I talked with a couple of them for most of the night and they were pretty decent guys in the same situation as us, no idea what was going on.

It's now about 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm and the sun has gone down a long time ago. There is still light out but it is growing dimmer by the minute. One of the BIA officials tells everyone to leave this organized line that we had formed on our own and form four single file lines in a bottleneck section formed by a corral. Not taking charge himself and putting these people in an organized fashion, he just told everyone to do it and then walked away. Now our organized line has become a disorganized herd of people, with us being even farther back now.

A Blackhawk touches down and the ground crew signal that it can take ten people. Ten run out and seven get on with the remaining three being tol to turn around and go back to the line. What? While they were returning the three ground crew that were helping people get on all day long jumped on themselves and the chopper took off. I saw that and immediately thought "Well, there goes the last chopper for the night." Fifteen minutes later that was confirmed when we were officially told that we would be stuck there for the night. (Now KSL news reported that 50 people or so "elected" to stay behind for the night and that they would be choppered out in the morning. The Cococino County Sheriff also told CNN that everyone who wanted to be out would be by nightfall. I want to set the story straight and inform everyone that those are false statements. First of all there was around 80-90 of us still there and not a single one of us elected or volunteered to stay back. The truth is we had no choice and were forced to stay back because the choppers weren't going to come back. So we didn't elect, but were elected to stay back. And as for the Sheriff's statement, everyone that wanted to get out that night didn't.) Many questions were asked like what about the possibility of another flash flood and where to go (when I heard that question I was like "Really? Did you seriously just ask that? YOU START CLIMBING UP THOSE ROCKS!), where were we to stay, what were we to eat, and what time would they be back in the morning? We were told that the choppers would be back at "first light". "What time is first light?" someone asked. "Dawn," was the answer. Dad raises his hand and said, "That's not what the question was. The question was what TIME is first light, or in other words, what TIME are they planning on coming back?" "At dawn," was the response. Another question was asked what was to be done with the line and how would people be able to save their spots? I first thought at this point what does it matter where you are in line anymore? Regardless of what time "first light" is and what time the choppers actually get here your day tomorrow is already shot. No response to that question either from the officials. I raised my hand and asked if he, the BIA officer, would personally organize the remaining group into smaller groups and assign numbers so that there would be some form of efficient loading of choppers in the morning and so that people didn't just start lining up at "first light" to sit and wait, you know, some kind of organization to appease the already irate group that was left. Nope. Didn't happen.

We took refuge in the local community center and food was provided from the store. There is a lodge there (for those who don't want to stay at the campground) that was charging $45 to anyone who wanted a bed. Convenient, right? So we slept there that night. Many people used the phone found in the store to call their families and let them know that they were all right. We also heard some of the news reports that our families received from CNN and other services, like us "volunteering" to stay behind.

I wake up about 4:30 am and walk outside. It's a full moon out and you can see the canyon wall with great detail. Blackhawks have flood lights on them right? How is it that they couldn't get the rest of us out earlier? Most people start waking up about this time because yesterday "first light" came around 5:00 am. Over the walkie talking it's heard that the first chopper would be there at "0600." So just before 6:00 am everyone was lined up out side the LZ waiting for "first light" and "0600." Luckily we got there early and were one of the first in line, instead of last. 6:00, 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, and still no chopper. By 8:00 am the sun was up and shining on the village, still no chopper. "First light?" A report comes in to prepare the LZ by 9:00 am. 9:00 am rolls around and still no chopper.

While waiting I decided to go off and do a little exploring. Remember that new waterfall I talked about earlier? Well I found it, and it's consequences. This new waterfall had formed about 0.3 miles upstream from Navajo falls and cut, literally cut, out a new canyon from flat ground. The canyon was at least 40 feet deep and I can't give you an estimate as to how wide it was, but it was enough to divert the river away from Navajo and dry it up. Absolutely amazing to see this feet of mother nature and how such little time it took. I stood there in awe and wonderment about the sheer force and power only "9 inches" of water falling in canyons 30-40 miles away can do when it all funnels into one. For those of you with Google Earth or some kind of mapping software the coordinates for this new fall are:

36 degrees 14'46.76" N
112 degrees 41'59.29" W

The coordinates for Navajo Falls are:

36 degrees 15'01.99" N
112 degrees 41'55.88" W

If you look at the landscape you can see a flat, forested land. Now check out this video I took an those coordinates.

Finally! 10:30 - 11:00 am the first chopper arrives! "First light?" It's a DPS air rescue chopper and starts again with the evacuation. Shortly after two National Parks Service (NPS) chopper from the Grand Canyon arrives and another Blackhawk assist with the remainder of the evacuation. Each different organizations chopper had different protocols. The DPS choppers loaded people up quickly and flew them out. The Blackhawks had to follow army protocol and load everyone up, securely fasten them in, etc. The NPS chopper I rode out on has a set of its own rules: jumpsuits, helmets, and a pre-flight itinerary. Are you kidding me! Just get me on the bird and out of this canyon!

I'm finally in the air! 36 hours post flood and I'm finally being evacuated! We were taking to a hilltop about three miles away from the parking lot and interviewed to make sure that everyone in our party was accounted for. We were shuttled back to our car and by 1:00 pm we were finally on the road. What awaited us ahead was a 12 hour drive home. We gave those who were lost a ride home to Provo and pulled into our garage at 1:30 am Tues morning. What an adventure!

As of lately I was informed that eleven campers are still considered missing. To that I can't comment on because I didn't know the exact number of how many campers were there in the first place. All I can say is that the initial rescue effort to get those people who were cut off by the river was amazing and everyone was working hard. I also don't wish to make it sound like the choppers did a bad job at the evacuation. DPS, the army, and NPS choppers and crew did an excellent job and were only following protocols and orders. Those who dropped the ball on this were the initial ground organizers.

I took my GPS handheld down and saved the coordinates to the falls, the trails we hiked on, the chopper right out, etc. I've loaded them into Google Earth and created a .kmz file so anyone who would like to see them let me know and I'll email them to you.

You can also see my full collection of pictures (pre and post flood) at


Daniel and Kelsie Frandsen said...

OH MY GOSH that is so scary!! I'm glad you made it out safely!!

ldsfrog said...

Hi Tyler - thanks for your blog and organizing the Picasa Web sites for our pics. Your accounting of the whole situation was pretty right on from the power of nature to the lousy handling by the tribe of the evac. Your pics and videos were great. Can you please send me the videos? My blog is at - it's my first attempt so it's not nearly as cool as yours. My pics are on photobucket.
Tawnya Gray
P.S. I can't believe you tried to name the new waterfall after yourself. We told you, it's "Gray Waterfall" - remember?? :)

ldsfrog said...

PSS - that youtube video you reference is from a flood in 2007. Look at the date it was posted. :) Just an FYI.

manja said...

Tyler, amazing story!!! Glad you're back safe. Taylor was jealous after reading the blog, he REALLY wishes he could have gone with you guys now. Manja

Jon said...

Hey Dude-

I'm the AOA guide you talked to in the village... Amazing job on the report! I can't believe how much work you put into it and how quickly you got it up. I got a couple of videos on YouTube if you are interested.... just google my name: Jon Opem & they will come up. I'm not nearly so talented on the keyboard hence my job as adventure guide!! Glad to hear you made it home safe - good talking to you during the long, long wait!

Deb Lauman said...

Hi, Tyler. I'm a volunteer with the Coconino County Search & Rescue team. Two of our members were sent down to help load helicopters, but the rest of us were stationed up top. I'm one of the people who "interviewed" evacuees as they were getting off the helicopters. Thank you for your account of what happened in the canyon. Not being down there, most of us on the team could only imagine what it was like from the bits and pieces we heard. I do have an account of my experience here, but it's surely nothing like yours. I can report, though, that everyone (all campers) were accounted for. 406 people were flown out of the canyon.

Tyler said...

For those of you who want different accounts on what happened, one of our group members has created a website with a bunch of different links to news reports, other's accounts, etc. The website is

Diane said...

Thank you for sharing all the information and pictures.We hiked down last year and camped next to the river.We spent the next 2 days hiking further to explore more of the canyon.We saw 4 more waterfalls.Your story and pictures brought tears to my eyes.I hope to get back there...I hope there will be waterfalls and village to return to!

miles said...


kevin said...

wow. thanks for the blog. i have been down there twice and was supposed to have gone down there this august. Navajo Falls was my favorite place in the entire world. I can't believe what happened

Anonymous said...

Tyler thanks for the details and photos from the flood. I love the place and am interested to see the google earth file you created as well as any more info you have or know of about the damage that occurred. In particular that of Navajo falls. My email is Thanks.

scrapmom4 said...

I'm glad you're safe. Thanks for sharing your story. I appreciated all the details.

HDVB said...

Dude, it took me a few weeks to get through the whole story, but I did it! (I did get the oral version the day you got out so I was not in too much of a hurry.) That is so crazy. I'd love to see the google earth stuff. Send it over, y no seas nena. Es un pocito de agua, nada mas.

Anonymous said...

Tyler,great reporting on the flood. You have provided one of the best accounts of the flood. The Arizona Geological Survey is doing some work with the Tribe to help them recover from the flooding so they can re-open the canyon, and prepare for future floods. I would like to talk to you about some of your photos and videos. Please contact me at ann.youberg at
Thanks, Ann

AndyM801 said...


Thanks for the great write-up. What a crazy ordeal. I am also from Ogden, and have a Havasupai trip planned for the end of May. I'm planning on taking a video camera and documenting how the clean-up is coming along. I'd love to talk to you on the phone or in person. Please email me at bacpacman [at]

Andy Mueller

Terry and Kim said...

I just stumbled upon your blog looking for pics of the flood. I just hiked to Havasu a few weeks ago - it was great! Your pics & story really tell about the flood well and give me an idea of the "before." Thanks!!!

Darksider said...

Today is exactly one year to the day of the flood... And the very first time I've read your blog about what happened then.
I was in Grand Canyon in May 2008 on a honeymoon from the Netherlands and (of course) we were amazed by it. I read the books on the flash flooding, but your account has made it very, VERY tangible. Thank you for your excellent and fair telling of what happened.

Christina said...

Hey Tyler...thanks for the riviting account of the 2008 flood. I just got back from Havasupai. This was my first time down there. It was magnificent. I did hear of the flash flood while we were there. I was so intrigued by it, I had to google search it and came across your blog. I was able to visualize the places you mentioned. I can't believe you were up on that cemetary. It seems so high up or at least more elevated than the trail. The whole ordeal must have been quite an experience! Thank the Lord you all came out okay, even if was only with the clothes on your backs! Christina Gilbert AZ

Tyler said...

UPDATE: Two years after the flood I went back to visit again. It was like visiting for the first time all over again seeing how things changed so much. I've loaded new pictures and a blog for those that are interested.,_Arizona.html

Anonymous said...

Tyler, Thanks for posting this! May I offer up some ideas about this situation? The Havasupai Tribe is sovereign on their land. That is why the US Government wasn't in charge there or in charge of the evacuation. The NPS nor the Coconino County Sheriff do not have jurisdiction there. That is why the Tribal Council had the final say. I totally agree with you that things could have been handled much differently and efficiently! Mark (

Nathan Cowlishaw said...

We were the ones stuck on that island and cut off by the rest of the camp back in 2008. We are getting ready to head back to Havasupai today and this will be my third time down since the original flood! My name is Nathan and I am linking here to my account of the flood so you can read it! Thanks for putting this article together. I'd like to hear your feedback! :)