Vail rescuers in ‘right place at right time’ in finding boy
VAIL – Steve Zuckerman turned a corner, and his heart felt like it stopped, he said.The Vail Mountain Rescue Group member had come across an 8-year-boy who was the subject of a four-day search in the Fremont County wilderness.”A little boy was sitting like baseball catcher on the side of the trail,” Zuckerman said. “He had one shoe on and one shoe off. He was just sitting there quietly.”On Tuesday, Zuckerman found Evan Thompson, a Lakewood boy who had wandered off from his campsite north of Canon City. Fellow Vail Mountain Rescue Group member Scott Sutton was searching with Zuckerman when they found the boy.Zuckerman, a Beaver Creek ski patroller who lives in Eagle, was one of about 100 searchers who were scouring a 15-square-mile area about 90 miles southwest of Denver on Tuesday.Zuckerman and Sutton came across the boy just before 4:30 p.m., five miles from his campsite.”I sort of approached him slowly,” Zuckerman said. “I asked him if his name was Evan, and he said it was. I asked him if he was lost, and he said, ‘Yeah, I think I’m a little bit lost.'”The boy seemed to be in good condition, Zuckerman said. Evan seemed to be a bit dehydrated and hungry, but alert and energetic. Zuckerman gave the boy some Gatorade, Pop-Tarts and M&Ms.”I asked him if he had drank some water, and he said he had out of puddle,” Zuckerman said. “He hadn’t really eaten. He was very calm. He didn’t seem frightened.”Doctors at St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City said Evan was in good condition hours after he was found Tuesday. Evan had been camping with his family, friends and a teacher.A third Vail Mountain Rescue member also helped in the search Tuesday, and two other Vail members helped out Monday.Zuckerman was searching another area in the morning on ATVs with Sutton and Brandon Hurey of Vail Mountain Rescue.”It’s kind of like finding a needle in a haystack,” Zuckerman said.The terrain was rugged with cliffs and ravines and lots of thick sage and scrub oak.In the afternoon, he and Sutton dropped off some searchers, then headed to Hole in the Rock Gulch, an area where searchers had found some footprints and had what they thought was voice contact with Evan.Zuckerman and Sutton drove their ATVs as far as they could and then walked down a trail. After a short distance, Zuckerman spotted the boy.Evan was holding one of his Spiderman shoes in his hand, Zuckerman said. Rescuers had used the Spiderman prints to track Evan. Evan asked Zuckerman to help him put his shoe back on, Zuckerman said.The men brought Evan back to a place where they could radio back to base, and then met a medical team. It took about another hour to get Evan back to the base.Zuckerman said he was confident they would find the boy, even four days after he was last seen.Tim Cochrane, director of operations for Vail Mountain Rescue Group, was a coordinator for the search effort.On each of the four days, between 80 and 100 people participated in the search, he said. On Tuesday alone, about 20 different agencies participated, Cochrane said. The National Guard and the Air Force sent units. Rescue groups from as far away as Montrose sent searchers. The Salvation Army and the Civil Air Patrol also assisted. Searchers used helicopters, dogs and ATVs.Cochrane said there was jubilation among searchers when they got the call that Evan was OK. “I was pretty much blown away,” Cochrane said. “All too many times it’s a different outcome, so this is huge.”The Vail Mountain Rescue Group is composed of volunteer members and works under the authority of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.Zuckerman said he doesn’t feel like a hero.”I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to help this little guy,” he said.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.