ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Search and rescue workers on Monday found an autistic teenager who had wandered away from his family during a weekend outing at White Sands National Monument and spent the night among the sand dunes with no food or water.
The rescue came a week after a successful search for an Oklahoma couple who got lost at the monument while trying to hike back to their vehicle after the man proposed.
Monument officials said the autistic 15-year-old was spotted midmorning by a U.S. Air Force Blackhawk helicopter. He was walking in the dunes about six miles from where he was last seen.
The paramedic flight crew examined the teen, whose name was not released, and reported that he was in good condition. He was then flown to the command post and reunited with his family members, who are all from El Paso, Texas.
“The teen did not have water or food. He was dressed in jeans, a long sleeve shirt and Crocs shoes,” said acting White Sands superintendent Becky Wiles. “The weather was mild last night, which certainly helped since the teen did not have a jacket.”
The teen and his family had spent Sunday sledding and picnicking at the southern New Mexico monument, which is made up of part of the white gypsum sand dunes that spread across some 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin.
At about 3 p.m., the family realized the teen wasn’t with the group. They searched for about an hour and then notified rangers.
Wiles said the effort was given high priority due to the teen’s autism and the impending darkness.
More than 100 searchers, including the local fire and rescue department, state police, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Air Force, were involved. Overnight, canine units and searchers on all-terrain vehicles were deployed.
At first light, three helicopter teams resumed their search from the air. The Blackhawk crew from Kirtland Air Force Base spotted him first.
Wiles said the teen was excited to have a helicopter ride and asked one of the crewmen for his patch. The crewman ripped the patch from his shoulder and handed it to the teen.
This marked the second time in the past week that search and rescue workers had to look for lost visitors at White Sands, which can be much more inhospitable in the summer when temperatures reach the triple digits.
An Oklahoma couple and their three dogs became lost last Monday while trying to hike back to their vehicle from a spot within the dunes where the man had proposed to his girlfriend.
The couple was able to contact a relative via cellphone and requested that help be sent. They were rescued by an Army Blackhawk helicopter.
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