Missing Mogollon man found dead following flash flood

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The body of 83-year-old Howard Bassett was found by hikers Sept. 21 in the evening near Mogollon, after a three-day search for him had been suspended on Friday. Bassett was reported missing on Sept. 16, at around 9:30 a.m. He hadn't been seen nor heard from since Sept. 14, just before midnight when heavy rainstorms hit the Mogollon, Alma and Glenwood areas.

The Catron County Sheriff's office followed up on the report that Monday. They turned the call over to the New Mexido State Police Dispatch about 6:45 p.m. Monday, and a NMSP officer was assigned to the case. Local New Mexico Search and Rescue crews were activated around 10 p.m. on Sept. 16.

Cause of death has not been established for Bassett, as of Wednesday. Catron County Undersheriff Ian Fletcher said they do not expect a COD for "several days."

Local New Mexico SAR teams conducted over three days of extensive search and rescue efforts before suspending the search on Friday afternoon, Sept. 20, due to lack of evidence and an increasing threat of more thunderstorm activity.

Bassett left the small mountain community of Mogollon on Sunday evening, Sept. 15, after heavy rains had begun causing flooding in the area. It is speculated that he was attempting to beat the flooding down the mountain. His vehicle was found on Thursday, about three-quarters of a mile outside of the Village of Mogollon, in a drainage ditch, somewhat hidden from what had been Highway 159, before it washed away.

NM SAR began their search on Tuesday, including air, ground, k-9, vehicle resources and even a specialized underground team. According to NM SAR, the search had been suspended due to a lack of evidence that Bassett was able to escape the flood waters after his vehicle was carried downstream by the flash flood. The increasing thunderstorm activity in the area, which threatened to become a safety issue for searchers, was also a factor in the suspension of the search.

"The vehicle is in very rugged terrain, on its side, and covered by mud and rocks," the NM SAR reported of Bassett's pickup. "The vehicle received damage from the rocks brushing up against, and hitting the vehicle."

The New Mexico State Police Department was conducting the search for Bassett, until it was suspended late on Friday. The Catron County Sheriff's office took over the investigation once the body was found. The investigation is ongoing.

"I cannot speculate if Mr. Bassett was washed out of the vehicle, as there is no evidence to support otherwise," said State Department of Public Safety spokesman Emmanuel Gutierrez. "We are also unable to determine if Mr. Bassett abandoned the vehicle."

Bassett's family resides mostly in Arizona. The family has been notified, and did not wish to make a statement at this time.