Vernal woman, step-grandson swept away in Grand Canyon creek

Lou-Ann Merrell, 62, and Jackson Standefer, 14, of Tennessee lost their footing during a family trip and fell into the creek, a tributary of the Colorado River that runs through the Arizona landmark, authorities said. Photos Courtesy: Facebook

GRAND CANYON, Arizona, April 18, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — A Vernal woman and her step-grandson are missing in Grand Canyon National Park after being swept away in Tapeats Creek Saturday evening.

Lou-Ann Merrell, 62, and Jackson Standefer, 14, of Tennessee lost their footing during a family trip and fell into the creek, a tributary of the Colorado River that runs through the Arizona landmark, authorities said.

Officials were alerted when an emergency GPS locator beacon was set off, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

“The NPS received an alert from a personal locating beacon in a backcountry area of Grand Canyon National Park near the confluence of Tapeats Creek and Thunder River,” the news release said. “An Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter flew to the location where a hiking party reported two members of their party missing.

“The hiking party reported that the two hikers were last seen crossing Tapeats Creek below the confluence with Thunder River when they lost footing and were swept down Tapeats Creek.”

The NPS is currently conducting a Search and Rescue operation. Crews were flown to the scene Sunday morning and are searching the area. Backcountry hiking groups and Colorado River trips in the area have also been alerted.

Merrell is an experienced hiker and knows the area well, family members said Monday. She is the wife of Randy Merrell, who helped found the outdoor footwear company Merrell Boot Co. in 1981. The missing pair were on a family trip with Randy Merrell and the boy’s mother.

The National Park Service said no rain or flash flooding was reported in the area, and it’s not yet known whether the water level was higher than usual in Tapeats Creek.

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The park service describes conditions in the area on its website, warning that snow melt or heavy rain may make creek crossings impossible.

“Spring warming trends and intermittent high creek levels are more likely after mid-March with the peak flows often in May,” the website states.

Merrell was last seen wearing khaki zip-off shorts, a blue and green button down short-sleeve shirt, and blue water shoes. She was carrying a homemade blue backpack with a maroon fleece and hiking poles attached.

Standefer was last seen wearing black Nike shorts, a long sleeve white Columbia T-shirt with “Columbia” written on the sleeve, and navy blue Chaco sandals. He was carrying a new sage green backpack.

Anyone with information about the hikers should contact National Park Service at 928-638-7805.

A Vernal woman and her step-grandson are missing in Grand Canyon National Park after being swept away in Tapeats creek Saturday evening. Photo Courtesy: National Park Service

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