Grand Canyon searchers seek hiker, stepgrandson swept down remote creek

April 16, 2017 photo provided by National Park Service shows Tapeats Creek in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

AP

A woman and her stepgrandson were swept down a remote creek in Grand Canyon National Park, but the family is holding out hope that the 62-year-old wife of a popular outdoor footwear company founder has the skills to keep them both alive until they’re found, a family member said.

Lou-Ann Merrell, wife of Randy Merrell - who helped found the Merrell Boot Co. in 1981 - and Jackson Standefer, 14, lost their footing Saturday during a family trip in the Arizona park and fell into the creek. Mark McOmie, Jackson’s uncle, said the water roars down through rocks, so the family is hoping the two could be on a boulder or have found a cave for shelter.

Officials were alerted when an emergency GPS locator beacon was set off below the canyon’s North Rim, said Chief Ranger Matt Vandzura of the National Park Service.

The National Park Service deployed a drone, helicopter and dozens of rescuers in an effort to find the pair. The drone footage must be analyzed for clues.

McOmie, who was not on the trip, said the Merrells are avid hikers and know the area well. He said Lou-Ann and Randy Merrell, who was also on the trip, live in Utah in a city on the eastern side of the state.

Lou-Ann Merrell is “a very experienced backpacker,” McOmie said. “If they can get to a spot where they cannot be in the water and stay warm, she’s got the skills needed to get them through it. The odds aren’t great. But given their skills and knowledge of the area, that will probably lead to the best possible outcome.”

McOmie said searchers have found their backpacks with belongings inside, which the family has interpreted with mixed feelings. He said it looks as if they were able to get their backpacks off.

“The bad part is that they don’t have their gear,” McOmie said.

The Merrells, Standefer and the boy’s mother were on a path known as Tapeats Trail when the pair fell, authorities said.

The park service said it’s too early to determine what went wrong. No rain or flash flooding was reported in the area, and it was not known whether the water level was higher than usual in Tapeats Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River that runs through the Arizona landmark.

Creeks in the canyon often see higher water levels in the spring as snow melts.

The park service describes conditions in the area on its website, cautioning that melting snow or heavy rain can make crossing the creek impossible.

According to CBS Chattanooga affiliate WDEF-TV, the National Park Service posts this warning for the Tapeats Creek crossing:

“Intermittent high creek levels are more likely after mid-March with the peak flows often in May. … During periods of high water hikers must use a sketchy, seldom-used trail that stays west of the creek all the way to the river. This option is narrow and exposed and should be used only as a last resort, but when Tapeats Creek is in flood it may be the only possibility.”

It’s not known whether the Creek was in flood stage, the station says.

The North Rim, an area visited only by 10 percent of Grand Canyon visitors, has rapidly changing weather and visitors should be prepared for heat, cold, rain, wind or snow, the park service says.

The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said Jackson is an eighth-grade student at the all-boys school.

“The entire McCallie community sends its prayers to the Standefer family and all those close to Jackson as we all hope for a positive ending to this situation,” the school said in a statement.

A call to Merrell Footlab in Vernal, Utah, for comment on the search wasn’t immediately returned Monday evening.