Missing Elderly Hiker Donald Hayes’ Body Found in Arizona Forest With Loyal Dog Still by His Side: Report

by TK Sanders

Authorities located the body of an elderly hiker who was missing for six days in a north-central Arizona forest, his dog still by his side. Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue teams located the body of Donald Hayes, 74, of Prescott Valley, who went missing about 85 miles north of Phoenix near Mingus Mountain last Friday.

When first responders finally located Hayes’ body in a rugged part of the forest, they found his dog, Ranger, dehydrated and malnourished, the New York Post reports. An on-scene veterinarian treated Ranger, who was taken to a local animal hospital before being sent home back to Hayes’ wife.

“Our condolences go out to Mr. Hayes’ family. We wish the outcome could have been different,” Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes said.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of death. The search and rescue attempt began when Hayes took a wrong turn in the woods and called his wife, confused and worried. Hayes’ wife called authorities, which led to a multi-day search via both ground and air. The effort included four counties working in concert, plus a police chopper overhead.

Officials told the missing Arizona hiker to remain in one place, but they believe he did not heed that advice

“Donald Hayes contacted YCSO Forest Patrol last Friday afternoon. [He] stated he had become lost on his hike on Mingus Mountain,” the sheriff’s statement read. “Forest Patrol informed him that rescue would be on its way and to remain at his location. Unfortunately, the victim decided against the advice; and tried to find his way out, causing him to become lost further in the forest. SAR volunteers from Coconino County, Maricopa County, and Gila County also assisted in the search and recovery efforts.”

The particularly difficult terrain caused problems for search teams. According to the statement, rescuers used “search dogs, the Sheriff’s Volunteer OHV Unit, 4×4 Unit and Jeep Posse personnel along with a DPS Ranger helicopter” to search the area. When they eventually found Hayes and Ranger, the pair were just six miles from the trailhead; but in a spot that required almost 12 miles of hiking to reach.

Rhodes also thanked the many search and rescue volunteers who attempted to find the missing Arizona hiker over the course of a long, stressful week.

“I thank all the volunteer search and rescue teams who gave their time to locate the victim,” Sheriff Rhodes said. “Our searchers utilized every tool at their disposal to find Mr. Hayes and never gave up.”

A GoFundMe campaign for Ranger, who is steadily improving, has raised over $4,300 as of Friday evening for veterinarian bills.

“Ranger is improving,” the webpage says. “He ate dinner. The hope is to release him tomorrow to his family.”