TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The Tucson Police Department (TPD) is being praised for its incredible efforts to save a vulnerable senior lost in the desert.
Each night is different for officers Chris Potter and George Bravo with TPD’s Air Support Unit. Typically, they patrol city limits from above; helping with pursuits, traffic control and crime-related observation.
However, on Sunday they experienced a flight like no other.
“I’ve never been part of a situation like this before,” Bravo said.
At about 1 p.m. on Feb. 28, an 83-year-old man drove to a hardware store on Irvington and Campbell and didn’t return home.
“He said that he got turned around with the directions of the GPS,” said Franmig Pedrique.
Franmig tried desperately to get ahold of his father. His wife, sister, brothers, brother-in-law and friends soon formed a search party, using brief phone conversations and GPS technology to track Mr. Pedrique’s whereabouts.
“Seven, eight hours of not hearing from him and getting glimpses of phone calls ... your mind starts wander. What is he thinking? Is he okay? Did he stop and ask for help and someone robbed him?” Franmig asked.
So, family members called police.
“We were contacted by a sergeant in operations division south,” Bravo said.
The search required a bird’s-eye view as Mr. Pedrique’s last known location came from a cellphone ping in Avra Valley nearly 50 miles Northwest of the hardware store.
GPS maps showed he was in a mountainous, desolate area well outside of TPD’s jurisdiction.
“We tried to get specific resources out there that were better equipped to do a rescue,” said Potter. “Unfortunately, there were none available at that time. Trying to logistically get [a helicopter] from Phoenix or somewhere else in the state was going to take time. We knew what the temperatures were, we knew [Mr. Pedrique] had already been missing for 12 hours and was probably dehydrated and very cold. He may have had the ability to start walking away from the vehicle, so we agreed we were going to give it our best.”
Officers say it was a matter of life and death. They circled Mr. Pedrique’s general location in pitch black, using night vision goggles and search lights. Just as they were about to turn back for fuel, there was a miraculous sighting.
“We noticed a light very far off in the distance,” Potter said.
It was Mr. Pedrique’s brake lights. His truck was stuck in a ravine. Bravo and Potter landed nearby, assessed his condition and carried him back to their chopper.
“He was calm, looking out the window the whole time,” said Bravo who fluently communicated in Spanish with Mr. Pedrique. “He seemed to be upbeat.”
As former air force pilot himself, Mr. Pedrique seemingly enjoyed being in the sky again. He was reunited with his family just after midnight.
“I can’t thank TPD enough for stepping up and going out of their jurisdiction,” said Franmig. “They will forever be my heroes.”
With the help of some ATVs, the family was able to recover Mr. Padrique’s truck on Monday.