'My friends did everything right': Injured Grand Canyon hiker says he was not abandoned on trail

A 63-year-old hiker, who was rescued last Friday after he was injured in a fall at the Grand Canyon National Park, has said that he was not abandoned by his friends, contrary to previous reports.

William "Bill" Formanek was on a backpacking trip with his friends on the North Rim of the park along the Kanab Creek when he fell and suffered a traumatic injury to his shoulder that needed emergency medical attention and evacuation, according to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue.

Search and rescue operation

Last Friday evening, authorities received a call for help from someone using an Apple device through a satellite connection. A search and rescue team was dispatched to the area of the injured hiker's phone location. A Department of Public Safety Western Air Rescue helicopter was also deployed to assist in the rescue.

Due to limited space and visibility because of the tall canyon walls surrounding Kanab Creek and the fact that it was nighttime, the helicopter landed about a quarter mile from the injured hiker’s location, said the sheriff's office. From there, the operation continued on foot.

When the crew arrived at Formanek's location, they were able to stabilize him and transport him to a local hospital on the helicopter for further medical evaluation.

It was later understood that the hiker's injury happened earlier in the afternoon and that the group had been backpacking for about 3 to 4 days and had a few days ahead of them.

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Not abandoned

While it was earlier believed that the injured hiker's friends abandoned him and continued with their hike, the hiker injured issued a clarification via the sheriff's office that he was not left behind and that his friends assisted in getting him help.

As per the update, the backpackers began their expedition in the Kanab Creek Wilderness area and hiked down Kanab Creek into the Grand Canyon National Park, where they set up a campsite.

On Friday, Formanek and his friend decided to hike further and explore the area south of their campsite, while the others decided to stay at the campsite.

The two were on their way back to the campsite when the 63-year-old fell and injured himself. His companion left him and went back to the campsite to use an emergency device, that was with the other three hikers, according to the clarification.

When rescuers arrived on scene, he was alone.

"It was a very unfortunate slip. My shoulder was severely dislocated. It was extremely painful," Formanek told The Arizona Republic on Tuesday. He explained that he slipped while crossing a creek and fell sideways against a boulder, "severely" dislocating his shoulder.

"Due to the extreme pain, and rugged terrain, there was no way I could continue to hike," he said.

Formanek said that he and his friend had two options: either wait for their friends to find them or for his friend to trek back and seek help. He said that the latter made more sense and was a less risky option, so his friend set out to get help for him.

"I had food, water, and all my gear, so if my friend stayed with me all he could do was sit and watch me suffer in pain," Formanek told the Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Formanek's companion caught up with the rest of the group after 5 p.m. and requested a search and rescue with the satellite device.

Kanab Creek in Arizona seen in this aerial shot taken January 27, 2017. 
Kanab Creek is one of the many tributaries of the Grand Canyon. It begins in Kane County, Utah, just south of the watershed to the Great Basin and flows 125 miles (201 km) south to the Colorado River.It passes Kanab, Utah, crossing the border to Arizona near Fredonia. It flows through the Kaibab Indian Reservation of the Paiute people and the 1984-designated Kanab Creek Wilderness, a wilderness area, before its mouth in the Grand Canyon National Park. / AFP / Daniel SLIM        (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

Inaccurate press release

The sheriff's office had earlier said that the other four hikers in the group "continued on their backpacking adventures — leaving the injured hiker behind alone," with the phone's tracking device. The post had received a barrage of comments from social media users who had criticized the group for leaving the injured hiker behind.

Formanek said that the police had misinterpreted his statement and that their news release affected his friends.

"My co-hikers were very upset that the press release was inaccurate, like, fuming and couldn't sleep at night," Formanek told The Arizona Republic.

Formanek said that he and his friends were all experienced hikers and that he had known them for about 15 years. He said he was grateful for his friends and the decision they made after his injury.

"I think my friends did everything right. They did everything they could. They didn't do anything stupid to put themselves at risk," Formanek said.

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Hiking advisory

The Mohave County Search and Rescue encourages groups to never leave someone behind alone and whenever possible, to stay with them and ensure they are rescued, before continuing on their journey. They also advise everyone to prepare for the unexpected when adventuring in the remote, wilderness areas of Mohave County.

Hiking is best done with someone else, according to the Grand Canyon National Park. "Don't hike alone," the park's website warns, adding in bold, "You are responsible for your own safety as well as that of everyone in your party."

The Grand Canyon has a few preparation tips:

  • Know your destination and how to arrive there.

  • Know the weather forecast.

  • Know the availability of water.

  • Stay on the trail.

  • Do not "overestimate capabilities".

Contributing: Elena Santa Cruz, The Arizona Republic

Saman Shafiq is a trending news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at sshafiq@gannett.com and follow her on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @saman_shafiq7.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Injured Grand Canyon hiker says his friends did not abandon him