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One dead, one still missing as SAR seeks lost hikers - UPDATE

3/17/23, 2:00 PM [Scroll down for update]

Kane County Dispatch received a call Monday morning from a lady in Florida stating that her 50-year-old husband and his two friends were set to hike the Buckskin Gulch. She had not heard from them, so she called to report them overdue. Kane County Sheriff’s Office initiated a SAR call and began to look into the conditions there. It was noted that there had been some significant flooding on Saturday.

One of the hikers found by thermal camera - one of many suffering hypothermia symptoms. Photos courtesy of Utah Department of Public Safety and KUTV.

We called in our partners from the Utah DPS Aero Bureau for the use of their helicopter. Two DPS teams responded quickly arrived and began assisting the Kane County Sheriff SAR team in the search. After significant searching, one of the three men was located and hoisted out of the canyon by the DPS rescue ship. He was in poor medical condition and was experiencing significant signs of hypothermia. Before being flown to St. George Regional Hospital by medical helicopter, the man was able to provide some information to Sheriff’s personnel regarding what had taken place. He stated that the three men entered the canyon on Friday where they encountered very difficult, slow, cold conditions. He said they woke up to running water Saturday and eventually got washed downstream by flood waters. The three men were separated during the flood. Later in the day, as flood waters subsided, two of the men were reunited. They searched for their friend but could not find him.

Under the direction of Deputy Rod Willis, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office Technical Rescue Team, Sheriff’s Deputies, BLM rangers and two DPS helicopters continued a search effort throughout the night on Monday under grueling conditions in deep mud and pools of water. Sadly, the search teams located the deceased body of one of the men in the bottom of the canyon on Tuesday. Search efforts for the third man are still ongoing.

During the search for these three missing men, searchers discovered and rescued nine other individuals that were stranded in the Buckskin and Paria canyons. Many of the rescued individuals were beginning to experience mild signs of hypothermia.

“We are experiencing a unique weather pattern this year” stated Sheriff Glover. “Snow, followed up by rainstorms on Saturday created some heavy cold runoff in our drainages. Unfortunately, these men and the others that were rescued in the canyon were in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffered nearly impossible conditions. I could not be prouder of the professional and technical expertise of my search and rescue volunteers and deputies. They place themselves in danger throughout the night in terrible conditions to help others.”

From all of the members of the Sheriff’s Office, our deepest condolences go to the families of those touched by this tragedy.

Buckskin Search and Rescue Update 3/17/23

Additional information has been reported since this issue of the paper went to print. We

are updating the online version of this story, and will add further information in the coming

week’s print edition.

The Kane County Sheriff’s Office, along with the county Search and Rescue team, has

published a formal press release regarding missing hikers in Buckskin Gulch - all three hikers

have been located, two dead and one surviving with severe hypothermia. The hikers, Ed Smith,

Jeff Watson and Bill Romaniello, were hiking from Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry, and SAR teams

were notified of their absence by the hikers’ family in Florida as being well overdue by Monday


During the Search and Rescue operation, two Department of Public Safety helicopters

were dispatched with advanced search equipment as well as hoisting capabilities to pull the

hikers out. At about 5 P.M., one of the helicopters was able to locate a hiker with an infrared

camera and were able to pull him out of the canyon - the individual was confirmed to be Ed

Smith, who was able to give a brief statement to the rescuers before being transported to

medical staff by a medical helicopter.

According to Smith, the group were hit by a flash flood on Saturday morning. Smith and

Watson were able to escape the flood and regroup, but were unable to locate Romaniello who

had washed further downstream. Watson’s leg was injured by the flood and was unable to

continue, leaving smith to proceed downstream seeking help.

After rescuing Smith, Search and Rescue teams proceeded on the ground to search for

the other two hikers. Teams located Bill Romaniello, deceased, late Monday night, and

continued searching for Watson until about 4 A.M. Tuesday morning, when frigid pools of water,

quicksand and sinkholes resulting from the flood and severe cold conditions forced a stop.

On Tuesday morning, another distress call was received, and the DPS crew were able to

extract another four trapped hikers from the canyon. Further searching for Watson yielded no


Finally, after being delayed by heavy rain Wednesday morning, DPS and SAR crews

were able to locate Watson, deceased, about 3.5 miles into Arizona, where he was turned over

to Coconino County Coroner’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office concluded their press release with the following:

“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. We encourage everyone to be safe as they recreate in the many beautiful areas of Kane

County. As this week has shown, that beauty can change to tragedy in an instant. Careful

preparation and understanding our complex weather are essential in your trip planning.”




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