U.S. Border Patrol agents recovered the bodies of two illegal immigrants and rescued four others near Gila Bend on Thursday in a search started by a 911 call - an increasingly common occurrence.
The events that led to the discovery of the two men from Mexico began on Wednesday when a man called 911 in Phoenix to report that two of his family members had called from their cell phone reporting they were lost and in need of help in the desert near Ajo, said Mike Scioli, Border Patrol Tucson Sector spokesman.
The father and son in the desert told the man in Phoenix that they were near a highway and two white water tanks, Scioli said.
Phoenix police transferred the call to the Border Patrol's search, trauma and rescue team, known as Borstar. Borstar agents familiar with the area determined the description matched an area west of Gila Bend called Paloma Ranch and launched a search.
With the help of a National Guard helicopter, agents searched through the night. They found the group on Thursday southwest of Gila Bend, about 10 miles west of state Route 85, Scioli said.
Two of the six people had already died. They were adult men from Mexico.
Borstar agents gave the four survivors first aid and called for life flight helicopters to take them to a hospital. The father and son who called their family member in Phoenix were among the survivors. After receiving treatment, they were set up for return to Mexico.
Each year, more searches begin with 911 cell phone calls made by illegal border crossers, their family members or concerned residents, said Mario Agundez, a member of the Border Patrol's Borstar team. Agundez coordinates all of the 911 calls that get patched through to the Border Patrol.
Borstar agents have been sent out 270 times between Oct. 1 and July 13 and nearly 45 percent of the calls came through 911, Agundez said. That percentage has been increasing for several years as more illegal border crossers carry cell phones, he said.
Many searches turn into body recoveries in what is regarded as the deadliest stretch of the Southwest border.
From Oct. 1 through June, the latest figures available, agents in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector recovered the bodies of 124 illegal immigrants, compared with 118 during the same time last year, Scioli said.