A hiker who was injured in Grand Canyon National Park last weekend has spoken out to defend his friends after the initial account of the rescue went viral online.
William Formanek, 63, was injured Friday while hiking down Kanab Creek with a group of five. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Saturday saying Formanek was left behind after his hiking group called for a rescue using a satellite feature on an Apple device.
“Once contact for help using the Apple device was confirmed by the hiking group, the other four hikers left with the Apple device and continued on their backpacking adventures — leaving the injured hiker behind alone,” the statement read.
News outlets across the country reported on the alleged abandonment, sparking outrage on social media and in hiking communities over leaving an injured man to fend for himself. But Formanek says this account is completely false and fails to portray what really happened.
According to Formanek, the group of five had split up earlier in the day, with him deciding to venture farther down the canyon with one other hiker. He says he has extensive experience in the Grand Canyon, having hiked thousands of miles there over the years.
Around 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, Formanek took a bad fall while crossing Kanab Creek, striking a large boulder and dislocating his shoulder. With no way to continue hiking, Formanek told his hiking companion to go on without him to get help.
“Neither my friend nor I had a satellite-capable emergency device, but those in the group ahead of us did. Hence, with my blessing and encouragement, my friend continued to hike, hoping to catch the others before dark and request a rescue,” Formanek explained.
After hiking 3-4 strenuous miles, Formanek’s friend was able to catch up with the rest of the group and use an Apple iPhone’s satellite SOS feature to call for emergency assistance around 5 p.m. The sheriff’s office received the distress signal around 6 p.m. and dispatched a rescue crew.
Formanek praised the search and rescue team for their efforts in locating and extracting him from the treacherous terrain in the dark. He was airlifted out and transported to a hospital in Flagstaff for treatment.
However, Formanek insists he never told rescue crews that his companions had abandoned him there alone. He had explained that there were two sets of GPS coordinates – one from where the message was sent, and one estimating his location.
“If the search-and-rescue message was sent while my friends were with me and then they left me, as the post from the sheriff’s office said, then there would only be one set of coordinates,” Formanek pointed out.
After speaking to the sheriff’s office on Wednesday to clear up the timeline, the department updated their initial statement to align with Formanek’s accounting of events. They noted the group had been separated at the time of his injury and his hiking partner went ahead solo to initiate the rescue.
Still, the sensationalized story spread rapidly over the weekend, eliciting fiery comments insisting his fellow hikers had put their summit ambitions over helping their injured friend. Formanek feels the inaccurate narrative painted his companions as heartless and reckless when in fact they did everything possible to get him lifesaving aid quickly.
“In my view, my friends did all the exact right things. They got me rescued,” Formanek said. “I can’t praise them enough for the work they did.”
The viral uproar has left Formanek not only injured but disheartened at how quickly the truth was distorted online. He hopes setting the record straight will help repair the unjust damage done to his friends’ reputations over what he calls a simple miscommunication.