Officials said hikers left their injured friend behind in the Grand Canyon to keep backpacking.
But the injured hiker told Insider that was false and that his friends had done everything right.
Many news outlets picked up the story and hiker’s friends were widely criticized online.
Officials said a hiker who was injured in Grand Canyon National Park last weekend had been left behind by his friends after they called in a rescue for him — but the hiker in question says that’s not at all what happened and that his friends have been “unjustly vilified in the media.”
“In my view, my friends did all the exact right things. They got me rescued,” William Formanek told Insider.
Mohave County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue published a statement on Saturday saying they rescued a 63-year-old man who got injured while hiking down Kanab Creek. The statement said the man was hiking in a group of five when he got injured, and that they used a satellite-capable device to call for a rescue.
“Once contact for help using the Apple device was confirmed by the hiking group, the other four hikers left with the Apple device and continued on their backpacking adventures — leaving the injured hiker behind alone,” the statement said.
Formanek said his friends did everything they could to get him rescued quickly and that he was “baffled” by how the story got mixed up.
News outlets picked up the story about an injured hiker left behind by his friends with apparent summit fever — prompting angry comments on media sites and in hiking Facebook groups about the behavior of the so-called “friends.”
But Formanek said that narrative was simply false.
The group of five was in fact a few days into a seven-day backpacking trip. But on Friday, Formanek and one other member of the group decided to hike further south down Kanab Creek than the others, so the group split up.
Formanek said he’s hiked thousands of miles in the Grand Canyon, even down that exact creek several times, and has climbed more than 40 summits over the years. He felt breaking up the group was an acceptable level of risk, but noted that when hiking alone he would usually carry his own emergency device.
“I’ve hiked hundreds and hundreds of miles with no incident,” he said. “I just had bad luck this time.”
Eventually, Formanek and his companion turned around to head back to their campsite. At around 2:30 p.m., Formanek fell while crossing the creek, struck a large boulder, and dislocated his shoulder. The pain was severe, and he was unable to continue hiking in the rugged terrain.
“Neither my friend nor I had a satellite-capable emergency device, but those in the group ahead of us did. Hence with my blessing and encouragement, my friend continued to hike hoping to catch the others before dark and request a rescue,” he said.
Formanek said his friend probably hiked three or four miles over challenging terrain to catch up with the others, at which point they used an Apple iPhone’s satellite feature to send an emergency request for help. It was around 5 p.m. when the request was sent, Formanek said.
Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, or MCSO, said they received the request at around 6 p.m. and that Search and Rescue was activated.
“As the helicopter arrived on scene, it was very dark with tall canyon walls surrounding Kanab Creek — providing a tight and limited landing area for the helicopter,” MCSO said, adding the helicopter was finally able to land about a quarter mile from where Formanek was.
The rescue crew hiked down to Formanek and was able to assist him to the helicopter. He was then transported to Flagstaff, Arizona, for treatment.
“I can’t praise them enough on the work they did,” Formanek said of the rescue crew, adding he was extremely grateful.
But he still doesn’t know how the miscommunication happened. He said he never told the rescue crew that his friends had just left him. He also said he explained to the rescue crew why they had been given two sets of GPS coordinates: one for the location that the satellite message actually came from, and one for where his friends estimated he was.
If the search and rescue message was sent while his friends were with him and then they left him, as the MCSO post said, then there would only be one set of coordinates, Formanek said.
MCSO did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Formanek said he spoke with someone at MCSO on Wednesday to clarify what had happened. On Wednesday afternoon, MCSO updated their initial post to say that the group had been separated at the time of the injury and that the one friend only hiked ahead to call for a rescue.
But prior to that update, Formanek told Insider that even if the original statement was corrected, the damage had already been done.
“They’re being vilified as idiots and poor friends and all that inaccurate stuff because of that one line in the MCSO post,” he said, adding that even if it’s corrected not everyone will see it.
“Personally, I don’t care if people are criticizing me. I know I did, and my friends did, all the right things,” Formanek said. “The fact that my friends are having to take this criticism when they did everything right, I really feel bad for them. It’s disheartening.”
Formanek emphasized that the friend who left him to get help did everything right, adding that the following day the friend hiked all day and even into the evening just to get back out of the canyon so he could travel to Formanek.
“If my friend had just stayed with me it might’ve been one or two days before I got rescued,” he said, adding that in some circumstances it does make sense to leave an injured hiker in order to get help. “There was nothing my friend could do for me. The best thing he could do was meet up with the others.”
Correction: September 20, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated the date that Formanek corrected the record with MCSO. He spoke to them Wednesday, not Thursday.
Read the original article on Insider