March 2007

When Water Meets Dirt

By Mike Wallace
Superstition Search And Rescue

My brothers and I have spent countless hours stretching the limits of our lines and our pocket books fishing every lake within the borders of our home state of Arizona. We have become very familiar with and confident of the local lakes, spending most of our lives boating these waters night and day.

It was this confidence and knowledge that cost my brother a sparkly bass boat and nearly put an end to our fishing carriers.  

We had spent an evening fishing for winter bass at Saguaro Lake. After fishing a very familiar shore line into the dark, my brother and I stowed our gear in preparation for the ride back to the marina.

Bringing the boat around and up on plane we could see the light on Ship Rock Flashing. We had boated this section of lake thousands of time in the dark.

As confident as we were, my brother still brought up the spotlight to confirm our passage into the narrows. I looked up through the windshield.

Bleached-white mesquite trees filled the circle of bright light. My brother only had time to drop the spot light and put the boat into neutral before our water turned into dirt.

In darkness, trees exploded around us. The sound of fiberglass shattering was exaggerated by the absolute silence that followed. My brother’s voice broke the silence with, “Are you okay, Spike?”

I remember thinking, “I don’t know.” I responded, “I think I am. Are you okay, Douger?”

I reached into the glove box to retrieve a flashlight while my brother answered, “I hit the windshield hard. I found the light and turned it on my brother and was horrified by a graphically distorted and bloody face.

I jumped out of the boat thinking I would help but fell to the ground in pain. I called out to Doug, “I can’t walk. I think my ankles are broken.”

The landing zone of the boat was deep into the mesquites and was invisible from the lake. The cold winter had discouraged even the most avid boaters, and there was little hope of find a boat passing by for help. A fun evening on the water had quickly become a survival situation.

Survival Requires Training

Survival is not a typical subject for a boating magazine. Boaters are “outdoors” men and women, and many of them also enjoy camping and hiking. Whether on water or on dirt, it is all bigger than all of us. Learning how to survive is always appropriate.

An average of 400 people become lost annually in Arizona and need to be rescued. An average of 70 of these individuals is seriously injured and need to be extracted by men and women who are trained to do so.

It has been many years since that winter night. My brother and I survived that ordeal. I am an older and hopefully much wiser man now and have seen my share of wilderness crises.

I have spent the past six years as a member of a rescue group of extraordinary men and women who volunteer personal time to help those who are injured or lost. It is from my experience as a rescuer that I base the information I am going to share with you.

Survival is a huge topic. It would be impossible to cover all the information in one article. Ultimately, there are six basic principles or things that can be done to increase your ability to survive any wilderness crisis: preparation, fear management, injury management, hydration, maintaining body-core temperature, and learning how to be found. (Each can be a future article for Arizona Boating & Watersports.)

Thinking Is Critical

Left by itself, the human body cannot survive in the outdoors. Our ability to think, adapt and change our environment is the only reason we even exist. Letting anxiety progress on its natural course is a serious mistake.

Thinking is critical to survival! Fear or any other attitude or emotion that keeps you from making logical decisions needs to be controlled.

My brother and I were experienced outdoorsmen. Yet, because of a few minutes of carelessness, we were in a real crisis. After I fell to the ground in pain and called out to my brother, he took a shirt and covered his face hoping to manage the blood loss.

 Doug used what strength he had to pull a battery and the spotlight out of the boat. I’m still amazed he was able to get to the edge of the lake before he had to sit down, stating he could do no more.

 I tried to stand again and found that I could put weight on one of my ankles. I hobbled down to the edge of the lake. As I clipped the spotlight to the battery terminals, we could hear a boat approaching.
When the boat came into view, I begin to flash the boat and put the beam on my brother, enabling them to see our dilemma. Thank God for good people. They brought their boat around and transported us to the marina.

My brother had to be air vac-ed out. There were only two boat trailers in the parking lot that night — ours and the one belonging to the kind people who helped us.

None of us is immortal. Learning how to survive should be an absolute for those times when water meets the dirt.    

I would like to take a selfish moment and tell you about our rescue group. The members of this team are not paid for their service. This group runs solely on donations.
About Superstition Search And Rescue

Superstition Search and Rescue is a non-profit 501c volunteer group of 30 members. In 2005, at the Arizona state capital, Jan Brewer, Secretary of State proclaimed, “Superstition Search and Rescue is the most active group of wilderness rescuers in the state of Arizona.”

In 2004, Sheriff Vanderpool, now head of DPS, stated, “Every weekend it seems like these men and women are saving someone — we could not do our jobs serving the citizens of Arizona without this unit of truly dedicated men and women who really do make a difference and have made a difference.”

This team is progressively getting busier each year. Superstition Search and Rescue has seen a 44 percent increase in rescues in the last two years. In the past ten years they have assisted in rescuing thousands individuals and saving the lives of over 800 people.

In 2000, they received the “Dedication and Service to the Successful Rescue of Lost or Stranded Citizens Award” from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office. In 2002, this group was awarded with the “Public Safety Award.” 

In 2005, President George Bush’s Counsel on Service and Civic Participation awarded eight members of Superstition Search and Rescue “The Presidents Volunteer Serves Award” and six of them with “The Presidents Call to Serve Award.” This represents 4,000 hours or more of individual volunteer hours.

Because of their ongoing training, they have been 100 percent successful on all of their missions for the past 10 years. All are dedicated to help those in need.

This team may be small in numbers but they are huge in talent. They have big hearts and strong legs. They are proud of what they do and feel privileged to serve the state of Arizona.

This is a worthy place for your tax-deductible donations. All funds go directly towards equipment, training and saving lives!

For more information, contact Wallace at or the team at