Fire Capt. Bobby Dubnow scooped the 5-year-old boy into his arms and asked for a "big bear hug," then the two held each other tight as they were hoisted off the Arizona mountain and into a helicopter 100 feet above.
“He was a brave little kid. He never showed me he was afraid,’’ Dubnow said, a day after the boy and his father were rescued from Camelback Mountain near Phoenix. “He never got weepy."
The father and son, from Glenview, had gotten lost while hiking Thursday afternoon, officials said. Their names were not released.
They began hiking along a trail around 10:30 a.m. in 90-degree heat. At 12:45 p.m., the father, in his 30s, called 911 and said they were off the trail and lost.
"They were exposed and they were scared," said Phoenix Fire Capt. Jonathan Jacobs. "They were lost and didn’t know where they were." While they had water, they had been out longer than they expected.
Camelback Mountain is "not super tall" but it's rocky, steep and dangerous, Jacobs said. "The trails are maintained but there’s lots of ledges and places to fall. Every year we have people who fall to their deaths."
After getting the 911 call, Jacobs said specially trained firefighters went into action: Crews were dispatched to walk them off the mountain. But when half-dozen or so firefighters arrived, they realized just how "terrible" the terrain was.
"They were in the wrong spot," Jacobs said.
Plan B was to call for a helicopter, which hovered at a “safe distance’’ of about 100 feet above so dirt wouldn’t fly up in their faces.
First the father was fitted with a harness and lifted to the helicopter. The boy stayed on the ground with Dubnow who is married with three children of his own. Dubnow, 46, said he wrapped himself and the boy in a special sling and waited to be hoisted up.
"We call it the screamer suit," Dubnow said. "People are either screaming with joy or fear."
But the boy, weighing about 50 pounds, "was just pretty quiet," Dubnow said. "But even though he was quiet, he engaged me in his eyes and not his head. I’m sure he was scared but he wasn’t showing it.
"He was just great," Dubnow said. "I just told him, ‘Hug me around my neck as tight as you want, you’ve got nothing to worry about. We’re going to be seeing your mom and dad in just a few minutes."
The father and son were reunited with the boy's mother by about 3:30 p.m. Neither father nor son needed medical assistance, and Jacobs said the father appeared embarrassed.
As they were saying goodbye, the boy reached out to Dubnow.
“He gave me a high five,’’ the fire captain said. “It was a good ending to a potentially really bad situation for him and his dad.''