Auto-renewal failure sends Search and Rescue after senator’s family

(Photo courtesy of Jay Hemphill)
Canyon walls in the Gila Wilderness, as captured on the Hemphill family’s shortened hiking trip last week.

On Thursday, June 23, members of Grant County Search and Rescue were dispatched to the Gila Wilderness to search for Senator Siah Correa Hemphill’s husband, Jay Hemphill, and sons, 15 and 9, who were reported missing. after the backpacker group’s expected satellite communications were not received.
The group had left for a nature hiking trip at the beginning of June 21 and was to be gone for five days. However, Correa Hemphill grew concerned when she did not hear from her husband after heavy rain later the day the band set off on their trip. While hiking in nature, Jay Hemphill wears a device called Garmin inReach, which allows him to communicate via satellite.
After Correa Hemphill received an error in response to a message she sent to Jay’s device, she reached out to friends to create a plan of action before informing Grant County Sheriff Frank Gomez and Search and Rescue.
Correa Hemphill said after she still hadn’t heard from Jay on Wednesday evening, Search and Rescue decided to send three search parties Thursday morning. Volunteers searched all day Thursday and until Friday afternoon, when Correa Hemphill received a call that her family had been found.
“I was very worried and unable to sleep, not knowing if my husband and boys were safe, especially with the heavy rains we experienced,” Correa Hemphill said. “Jay is an experienced hiker and knows this area of ​​the Gila Wilderness like the back of his hand, but I’ve been there enough to know things can happen, even when all safety precautions are taken.”
According to Jay, he had forgotten that the auto-renewal of his Garmin subscription was tied to a debit card he had canceled after losing his wallet. This led to the membership expiring, meaning messages he sent to his wife went undelivered.
He said he only realized the device was not sending its messages after looking at its settings. He tried to send a test message, but only received a loading icon.
“That’s what I wanted to be careful to repeat – it wasn’t Garmin’s fault, it was my oversight on the billing,” Jay said.
He said he had about 23 years of hiking experience, and before his purchase from Garmin, the Hemphills’ protocol was to set a return date in advance. If Correa Hemphill had not heard from her then she would contact her friends and Search and Rescue. He said that aside from the auto-renewal issue, his Garmin device has been working well for the six years he’s had it, calling it “phenomenal”.
“My family and I would like to thank Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for her kindness and concern during the search effort, the members of Search and Rescue who responded – including Oliver Greene, who finally found Jay and the boys on Friday. – Chief Tim Johnson for his dedicated service to the State of New Mexico, the Grant County Sheriff’s Department and the many who have called and reached out to offer love and support,” said Correa Hemphill. “It was a wonderful reminder of the power of community and how grateful I am to live in New Mexico, where we have so many kind and caring people.”
Hemphill also thanked Search and Rescue member Gerry Ingles, who was injured during the search after being thrown from his horse. Ingles is a longtime member of Search and Rescue and Back Country Horsemen.
Jay Hemphill said that apart from his concern over Correa Hemphill’s perceived lack of communication, the group enjoyed his trip.
“We had no idea someone was looking for us until the fourth day. We were just having the time of our lives,” Hemphill said.
The Hemphills advised backpackers using a satellite device to send a test message before their trip. They also encouraged communicating the duration and itinerary of the trip to friends and family members.