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Bronco Recovery - Martinez Canyon

Florence Junction, AZ - 12/5/04
By Matt O'Brien

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Bronco Recovery - Martinez CanyonAs an avid off-roader for many years, I've witnessed both the good and the bad sides of those who share my passion. Thankfully, the good far outweighs the bad and I was fortunate enough to bear witness to this recently when the call for assistance was made through our local Jeep club BBS (www.virtualjeepclub.com).

A fellow off-roader none of us knew had rolled his full-size Bronco while navigating the switchbacks of the Martinez Canyon loop trail in the scenic Florence Junction area, just southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. One of our own had happened across this man who had not only escaped serious injury and possibly death, but had even spent the remainder of the day himself helping to extract an older gentleman who had flipped his quad, to a point where he could be airlifted for medical treatment. Thankfully, both men will recover fully. The only thing more amazing than the fact the Bronco driver wasn't hurt is the turnout by the off-road community to assist in the vehicle extraction effort.

Within a day of the roll, a thread was posted on the BBS and by the end of the week, over two dozen folks had signed up to help out. And this was just within our own Jeep ranks. Additionally, members of his full-size Bronco group (fullsizebronco.com) and a few other off-roaders also showed up to help out.

We met at 07:00 the following Saturday with all the equipment we'd need for a successful extraction, as well as tools and supplies to fully clean up the area, including removal of any spilled fluids. When we arrived on-scene and saw the condition of the Bronco, we were all stunned that its driver made it out alive, much less uninjured. After dropping a tire over the edge of the trail, it had rolled nearly 200 feet down the canyon, stopping only after smashing over one large boulder and coming to rest with an even larger boulder in its back seat.

Bronco Recovery - Martinez CanyonAfter careful assessment of the situation, we went to work preparing the rig for extraction. One member brought his CO2 tank over and began reseating blown beads. One rim was bent, which prevented the tire from holding air permanently, but it would hold long enough for the recovery effort.

To allow us to pull the rig over onto its wheels, straps were rigged to the frame and attached to a winch positioned at a switchback, which was basically parallel to the rigs elevation on the hill. Another group of three Jeeps positioned themselves along the upper ridge to secure the Bronco from rolling once it landed back on its wheels and for the uphill pull. Still others scoured the hill picking up small pieces of plastic, glass and metal.

Once the Bronco was secured from above, the side-pull ensued, lifting the rig up and over, revealing the true extent of the damage. It's amazing the driver wasn't hurt, much less killed in the accident. Clean-up teams moved into the area where the Bronco had rested and quickly noticed that not a drop of fluid of any kind had leaked from the vehicle. The ground below the Bronco was bone dry. Considering the scenic area of the roll, this was very good news. As avid off-roaders who care about these areas, the last thing we wanted was to harm the environment. Though prepared with Pigpads, Peatsorb, shovels and plastic bags for contaminated soil removal, none of it was needed.

Bronco Recovery - Martinez Canyon
Bronco Recovery - Martinez Canyon

Given the weight of the Bronco, each pulling rig was also anchored from behind by another rig to prevent them from being pulled toward the edge. Because of the terrain, we knew we would need to reattach cables at various points during the uphill pull, so we used three pulling winches in order to maintain a minimum of two connections at any one time.

After covering the cables with blankets and moving people away for safety, we began the uphill pull. Using handheld FRS radios, our "winch master" relayed commands to the pulling rigs to control the pull and be sure no one winch ever bore the entire load. Once the Bronco was positioned pointing directly uphill, we secured the steering wheel with a ratchet strap to prevent it from trying to steer to either side. Then it was just a long, slow pull to the top.

Bronco Recovery - Martinez Canyon
Bronco Recovery - Martinez Canyon

Once back on flat ground, we still had the daunting task of preparing the rig to be towed out of the canyon. Before we could begin the trek, the Arizona skies opened up and began drenching the canyon, turning the road into a muddy mess and rendering the washes too dangerous for travel. The decision was made to leave the Bronco and return to continue the extraction under better conditions, rather than risk injury to any of the participants.

As the group prepared to leave, the Bronco's owner expressed his appreciation to all those who had gone out of their way on very short notice to help someone in need. Nobody who attended and helped this day asked anything in return. As I drove home I felt very good knowing I'd been able to give back - if even in a small way - but more importantly, I felt a sense of pride in my community of fellow off-roaders, knowing that I could count on them should I ever be the one in need.

Note: the Bronco was towed out of the canyon by its owner and fellow Bronco club members the following week. No trace of the accident was left in the canyon.

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