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Final lost hiker found deceased miles away from last known location

In a tragic demonstration of the depth and intensity of slot canyon flash floods, missing hiker Jeff Watson was found dead about three and half miles away from where he had been hiking with companions Ed Smith and Bill Romaniello. Smith was located alive on the evening of Tuesday March 14, and Romaniello was located deceased not long after. The search for Watson continued late into the night and early Wednesday morning with no results, and heavy rain caused further delays and risk to Search and Rescue and Department of Public Safety operators.

Multiple helicopters and dozens of vehicles were mobilized last week in an effort to rescue lost hikers. Photos submitted by KCSO.

Rescuers had a lead on Watson’s location, as during their search DPS received a separate distress call, and while rescuing those individuals a hiker mentioned seeing a dead body further down the canyons. With that additional information and with better searching conditions, SAR and DPS were able to locate Watson, deceased, who had washed miles downstream from the spot rescuers had found Smith and Romaniello.

Rescue teams eventually located all three missing hikers, only one of whom survived.

In the press release put out by the Kane County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with SAR operations, they stated, “The Kane County Sheriff’s Office wishes to thank the many Deputies, BLM Rangers, Dispatchers and other individuals who assisted with this difficult situation. The Utah Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau was invaluable with their helicopters and skilled crews. The Kane County Sheriff’s Search and rescue volunteer crews donated hundreds of hours away from their jobs and families to help bring a resolution to the incident and closure for the families involved. Our hearts pour out to the Romaniello and Watson families for their loss. Both men were pillars in their community and a huge loss to the healthcare field where they worked.”

The Sheriff’s Office cautioned anyone seeking to hike in these areas during the rainy seasons: “Careful preparation and understanding our complex weather are essential in your trip planning.” Slot canyon systems run for miles, and can be affected by rainfall that is relatively distant; floods can travel significant distances in the directed channels of a slot canyon.

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