PAYSON, AZ – Nine people are dead and a 27-year-old man is still missing following flash flooding at the Cold Springs Swimming Hole, north of Payson, according to the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
Meteorologists had issued a Flash Flood Warning surrounding a popular swimming area inside the Tonto National Forest before the water gushed into the narrow canyon.
Deputies say just before 3:30 p.m. on Saturday they received a 911 call regarding a search and rescue operation around the swimming hole for missing individuals.
Dozens of people were at the river swimming on Saturday afternoon when a flash flood came from above them, according to officials. Some people were washed several miles downstream during the incident.
According to a GCSO spokesperson, a family from Flagstaff and Phoenix was playing in the eight-foot deep watering hole when the incident occurred.
Video shot by witness Disa Alexander shortly after the flood showed a man in a tree holding his baby as water rushed around him. His wife was a short ways away from him, also clinging to a tree.
Five bodies were recovered on Sunday, the other four were recovered on Saturday, GCSO said.
Three children — including kids ages 3, 5 and 7 — died during the flash flood. In total, four adults and six children died during the incident.(LBN edit: 10 total confirmed dead, not nine as initially reported above. )
Forty volunteers are continuing the search for the missing man.
Gila County Sheriff J. Adam Shepherd said crews are continuing to search for others who are still missing at Tonto National Forest.
Deputies, along with Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, the Whispering Pines Fire Department, the U.S. Forest Service and the #Arizona Department of Public Safety were able to rescue four people and they were transported to the hospital with hypothermia.
“There’s no way of knowing how many people were actually there,” Medical District Fire chief Ron Sattelmaier said. “It’s pretty much recovery (now). We don’t believe there’s anybody left out there.” The thunderstorm hit about 8 miles upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the narrow canyon where the swimmers were enjoying a cool dip on a hot summer day.
According to GCSO, the victims range in age from 24-months to in their 60s.
Governor Doug Ducey took to Twitter Sunday afternoon to offer his condolences to the families affected by the tragic incident.
Just spoke w/ Sheriff Shepherd. In addition to @Arizona_DPS providing full air support, the state will assist in all ways possible.
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey)
July 16, 2017
Gov. Ducey also released a statement following deaths of multiple people.
— ABC15 Arizona (@abc15)
Read more on this developing story and get the latest area weather updates at ABC15