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5 frostbitten men rescued by CBP helicopter from snowy peak south of Tucson

A helicopter crew with U.S. Customs and Border Protection airlifted five men Thursday morning from a snowy peak in the Santa Rita Mountains, authorities said. The men were taken to a hospital for treatment for possible frostbite injuries.

The five men, three from Honduras and two from Mexico, were rescued after one of the men called 911 on his cellphone, and said he and his companions were stranded in the Santa Ritas south of Tucson, said an agency spokesman. 

Officials with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office received the call, and began coordinating rescue efforts, and asked for a helicopter crew from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to search for the men. Shortly after 1 a.m, on Thursday morning, the DPS crew spotted the men near Madera Canyon, and notified Border Patrol agents, but a rescue attempt was postponed until daybreak "due to hazardous conditions," said CBP's Rob Daniels.

At daybreak, agents with the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue team, or BORSTAR, and the Nogales BP station hiked up to the men, and "medically stabilized," them, he said. 

The men were exhausted, and had injuries caused by the snow and "freezing temperatures to their extremities," said Daniels.

Because of the terrain, the agents requested a Blackhawk helicopter equipped with a hoist to extract the men. A helicopter crew with Air and Marine Operations was able to carry the men to a nearby road. From there, medical personnel from the Green Valley Fire District took them to a local hospital for treatment for potential frostbite.

"Once medically cleared the men will be processed for immigration violations," Daniels said. 

Arizona’s desert is "dangerous for those unprepared for its remote, harsh terrain and unpredictable weather," said Daniels, adding that the agency "advises anyone in distress to call 911 or activate a rescue beacon as soon as possible."

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A Border Patrol agent looks up as a man is hoisted up to a Blackhawk helicopter piloted by Air and Marine Operations during a rescue Thursday near Madera Canyon, south of Tucson.