A pair of hikers died near the Utah-Arizona border after they were caught in a flash flood over the weekend.
Jeffrey Watson, and William Romaniello were on a multi-day hike from Wire Pass to Lees Ferry through Buckskin Gulch — "the longest slot canyon in North America, and a very popular hike," according to the Kane County Sheriff's Office — when the flood hit Saturday morning, authorities said in a statement. The two men, who were found dead, set off on the trek with Ed Smith, who survived.
All three were experienced hikers who worked together at Tampa Bay's Orthopaedic Medical Group, according to The New York Times.
The group was reported missing on Monday, the day after the trip was supposed to end, after having "no contact with their families" during the hike, according to the sheriff's office.
Getty Buckskin Gulch
Smith, the lone survivor, said he and Watson escaped the floodwaters, but were unable to locate Romaniello, according to the sheriff's office.
Watson, who suffered a leg injury in the flood, said he and Smith became separated while Smith went looking for help.
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Northville Fire Department/Facebook William “Bill” Romaniello
Rescuers from KCSO's search and rescue team located Smith alive on Monday, and brought him to safety via helicopter.
Romaniello's body was found later that night near the Middle Route area, the sheriff's office said. Watson's body was recovered less than 4 miles across the Arizona border the next day.
Search and rescue crews received numerous other distress signals while searching for the missing men, including a group of four hikers seeking rescue in the canyon.
During the operation, a hiker told officials that he had found Watson's body the day prior. However, officials were unable to reach the body until Wednesday afternoon.
The Orthopaedic Medical Group of Tampa Bay paid tribute to the colleagues on Thursday, describing Watson and Romaniello as "two pillars of the practice" with "incredible" legacies.
Their deaths leave "a monumental void in the hearts of everyone that knew them," the practice added.
"Orthopaedic Medical Group of Tampa Bay family would like to thank the community for the prayers and perpetual hope of positivity over the last few days," the practice said.
Tragedy has hit the practice, and it is with profound sadness that we share the loss of Dr. Jeffrey Watson and William Romaniello, ATC, two pillars of the practice that leave an incredible legacy and monumental void in the hearts of everyone that knew them. 2/3
— Orthopaedic Medical Group of Tampa Bay (@OMGTampaBay) March 16, 2023
Watson was a surgeon at OMGTB, according to his biography on the practice's website. He previously served as Chief of Orthopaedics at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and co-founded the Tampa Sports Academy.
Romaniello was the Director of Business Development at OMGTB, having joined the practice in 2015. He helped build the practice's sports medicine program, and enjoyed watching sport in his free time as well.
Additionally, he was an EMT at the Brookfield Volunteer Fire Company in Connecticut for over a decade before moving to Florida.
"He was a compassionate and competent provider who greeted everyone with a giant smile," the department wrote in a tribute. "Godspeed brother. We will miss you. Thanks for keeping our community safe."