Khayman “Khay” Welch, 25, was last seen on August 12, 2020, walking southeast from the parking area at Weaver’s Needle Vista Viewpoint near State Route 88 in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

He worked with his uncle doing AC work at Tortilla Flat that day. On their way home, they stopped at the Weaver’s Needle Vista. Khay told his uncle he wanted a better view of the sunset and walked southeast from the parking lot towards Weaver’s Needle. He was an experienced outdoorsman but did not have food or water with him.

Khay walked off towards the Needle and disappeared.

What is and where is the Tonto National Forest

The Tonto National Forest is 2,873,200 acres in size, the largest of the six national forests in Arizona, and the fifth-largest national forest in the United States.

The forest has diverse scenery, with elevations ranging from 1,400 feet (427 m) in the Sonoran Desert to 7,400 feet (2,256 m) in the ponderosa pine forests of the Mogollon Rim (pronounced MOH-gee-on, or MUH-gee-own). It is also the most visited “urban” forest in the United States.

The boundaries of the Tonto National Forest are the Phoenix metropolitan area to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north, and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian Reservation to the east.

Weaver’s Needle

The search for Khayman “Khay” Welch

An extensive search did not turn up anything – no remains, belongings or clothes. SAR teams thoroughly searched the area surrounding the Weaver’s Needle Vista (1.5 miles perimeter) on the East side of the 88. Tracker dogs, horseback riders, drones, and helicopters with Infrared Cameras accompanied teams on foot in the baking temperatures.

Khayman was last seen wearing a black T-shirt with a “Ghost Busters” image, black jeans, Army-style boots, a buzz haircut, and full tattoo sleeves on both arms at around 7.15 pm.

Volunteers and friends of Khayman began searching the West side of the 88 in early-mid October 2020, as SAR teams briefly walked the area, but a thorough search was not undertaken. They spend many hours looking through pictures and hiking videos and familiarizing themselves with the area and terrain where he was last seen. They came across images of Battleship Mountain, which resembles Weaver’s needle. It is possible that Khay mistook another rock formation that resembled Weaver’s Needle and proceeded on that route to an area deeper than initially expected/searched. This direction of travel would have led him into the First Water/Hackberry Spring area and even possibly further N/E into the La Barge, Battleship, and Boulder Canyon.

What happened to Khay Welch?

There has been no sign of Khayman in the months since he disappeared, apparently just looking for a better view of the sunset. Media coverage of the disappearance has also been sparse compared to many other disappearances.

It was very hot, 110-115 degrees F (43 degrees C), but he was hiking near the Weaver Needle Vista Trail, a 6.4 km moderately trafficked loop trail. So, he was not in a remote wilderness area. Despite carrying no supplies, could he have gotten lost so quickly in that area?

Perhaps he intended to disappear? Khay was dealing with depression (he had help lined up even), so he was not in a healthy mental state. Was this a suicide?

It was a sorrowful time for the Welch family, with the father of Khay’s little brother also dying in August 2020 following the disappearance.

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