Authorities in Kane County, Utah, have released more information about the search and rescue of hikers who went missing in Buckskin Gulch this week – including the identities of two hikers who died.
Bill Romaniello, one of the deceased hikers, was an athletic trainer for Orthopaedic Medical Group of Tampa Bay, where he also served as the practice’s director of business development and sports medicine, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He also served as an athletic trainer at Jesuit High School.
Jeff Watson, the other deceased hiker, was a partner in the Orthopaedic Medical Group practice, the Tampa Bay Times reported. He was an orthopaedic surgeon, co-owner of the Tampa Sports Academy, and chief executive officer for Los Canna Global cannabis industry consulting business.
A press release from the Kane County Sheriff’s Office explained that Romaniello embarked on a 45-mile hike from Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry with two other men – Ed Smith and Watson – beginning March 10. They were expected to reach Lee’s Ferry on March 12.
Just before 9 a.m. Monday, authorities in the area received a call regarding the men, since they did not return when expected. Kane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, (SAR), personnel began a search of the Paria Canyon–Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area and two Utah Department of Public Safety helicopters were dispatched.
Around the time the hikers went missing, the area was hit by severe weather, including rain. Eventually first responders were able to locate one of the hikers in Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in North America.
It is a “very popular” place to hike, and thousands visit the canyon each year, according to the sheriff’s office.
It was around 5 p.m. Monday when the Department of Public Safety detected Smith on an infrared camera and lowered a responder into the canyon to find him before hoisting him out of the canyon to be treated by medical staff. Smith said that the group was hit by a flash flood Saturday morning, which carried them downstream.
Flooding in the area has been a concern due to an enormous amount of snowpack melting.
While Smith and Watson were able to get free from the flood, they were not able to find Romaniello. Watson was left with a leg injury, so Smith went to find help.
“Mr. Smith was extremely cold and weak,” when he was found said the sheriff’s office. “After providing a quick interview he was transported to the hospital by medical helicopter.”
“During the night, a search team located Bill Romaniello deceased in the canyon near the Middle Route area,” said the sheriff’s office.
As search and rescue crews worked, Kane County received other distress calls in the area around Buckskin Gulch. Public safety personnel were able to locate a group who were exhausted and unable to continue due to the weather conditions. They hoisted the six individuals from that group out of the canyon. Rescue crews also helped another group of four out of the canyon.
Through 4 a.m. Tuesday, crews worked in “in treacherous conditions,” and “faced neck deep frigid pools of water and waist deep quicksand,” as they continued looking for the missing hiker.
“While looking for the distress call, they encountered a lone hiker several miles into Arizona. They landed and spoke with him, and he indicated that he had passed a deceased individual on Monday,” said the sheriff’s office. “He described the area, but crews were unable to locate the body Tuesday. A Coconino County Arizona deputy was able to contact the lone hiker when he completed his hike at Lee’s Ferry and get more information.”
Heavy rains poured down on the area Wednesday morning, but crews were searching again by that afternoon. Using information from the hiker, they were able to locate a deceased individual about 3.5 miles into Arizona.
Rescue teams confirmed that it was Watson.
“They were able hoist Watson out of the canyon and because he was found in Arizona, he was turned over to the Coconino County Coroner’s Office for investigation,” said the Kane County press release.
Kane County law enforcement encourages hikers to prepare and be cautious of weather conditions before they head into Buckskin Gulch.
“Our hearts pour out to the Romaniello and Watson families for their loss,” said the sheriff’s office. “Both men were pillars in their community and a huge loss to the healthcare field where they worked.”