|Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012|
An autistic teenager was found by the crew of an Air Force Blackhawk helicopter on Monday morning after a 15-hour search. The search was begun for the 15-year-old boy around dusk on Sunday after he wandered away from his family during a visit to the park. Over 100 searchers were involved in the all-night operation, which was managed under a unified command and involved the NPS, Air Force, Army, Border Patrol, New Mexico Search and Rescue, New Mexico State Police, and Alamo West Volunteer Fire and Rescue. The incident began when members of an extended family group from El Paso who had spent the afternoon sledding and picnicking in the park realized that the teen was not with them. They searched for him for about an hour before contacting rangers, who conducted an unsuccessful hasty search of the area. The search was quickly expanded and given high priority due to the teen’s autism, impending darkness, and weather. Canine units, ATV searchers, aircraft, and ground personnel were deployed during the night. At first light, additional resources were utilized to expand the operation, including three helicopters (two from the Border Patrol and a Blackhawk helicopter from Kirtland AFB) and several canine units (teams from Holloman AFB, New Mexico Search and Rescue, and the Border Patrol). Ground searchers, all-terrain vehicles, and equestrian teams from all previously listed agencies also supported this complex search and rescue operation. At 10:15 am, personnel in the Blackhawk spotted the teenager walking in the dunes about six miles from the point where he’d last been seen. He was found to be in good health and spirits. The boy was flown to the command post and reunited with his family. The missing teen was excited to have a helicopter ride and asked one of the Blackhawk crewmen for his patch. The crewman ripped the patch off his shoulder and handed it to the rescued teen. The teen’s family was extremely grateful and thanked everyone who was involved with bringing their son home.