Living Treasure Rescued from Canyon

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By Carol A. Clark

Jay Wechsler, 87, parked his car near the roundabout on Diamond Drive Thursday afternoon and embarked on a hike.

He apparently became disoriented and lost his way back out of the canyon.

Wechsler used his cell phone three times during the evening. First calling around 8 p.m. to say he was lost and later to describe his location along a dry creek bed or wash.

His final call was about 9 p.m.

Los Alamos firefighters and police assisted New Mexico Search and Rescue (SAR) who located Wechsler at 3 a.m. today in the lower portions of Bayo Canyon, some 3.5 miles from his last call.

“It’s a common recommendation of Search and Rescue teams for lost hikers to stay put until found and to especially stay put from wherever they made their last phone call,” Assistant Fire Chief/Fire Marshal Michael Thompson said.

Thompson commended SAR members for their selfless efforts saying they volunteer to help others. Fire Chief Douglas MacDonald agreed.

“These search and rescue folks are really valuable to this community,” MacDonald said. 

Search and Rescue Coon Hound Clancy caught Wechsler’s scent at about 12:30 a.m., after sniffing his car and he and his handler and another SAR member began working their way along the trail, Deputy Fire Chief Doug Tucker said.

Los Alamos Police Department patrols checked Wechsler’s car every 30 minutes throughout the search in the event that he somehow made his way back undetected.

Battalion Chief Juan Pacheco led the fire department efforts in assisting SAR with their search. LAFD ATV’s combed the canyons and reported back at regular intervals.

Capt. John Napier tracked the whereabouts of rescue personnel from the Mobile Operations Center set up at Anderson Overlook on the Main Hill Road.

SAR deployed a second team at about 2 a.m. to work the trails coming up from Totavi toward Barrancas Canyon.

“The search area is based on the hits from the hiker’s cell phone calls,” Tucker said.

Sheer elation shot through the rescue teams when word came that Wechsler was found resting on the dry creek bank and doing fine.

Two SAR members and Clancy along with LAFD Driver Engineers Michael Gill and Steve Fierro and firefighter Michael Lewis and Thompson were the team that walked up on Wechsler.

“Given the late hour for this search, everyone pulled together to find this gentleman,” Thompson said. “He expressed several times how thankful he was to be found. He had prepared to spend the night but he really wasn’t dressed for it and he was out of water. He hadn’t intended to be gone that long.”

Wechsler is a Los Alamos Living Treasure from 2001. His moved to Los Alamos in 1944 and his community service spans his decades. He was president of the Los Alamos Medical Center Board and has been a Kiwanis member for some 50 years.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.