Meanwhile, Mendez and Lauro struggle through the desert on their own. Although they have traversed a great distance in a short time and are actually relatively close to salvation, Lauro is fading fast. He sits down to rest, and falls asleep. Mendez gets down on the ground to shake Lauro awake, but cannot. When Mendez himself tries to stand, he finds that his legs have given out, and he cannot. He begins to crawl forward, until the effort exhausts him, and he too falls asleep beneath a bush.
Mendez and Lauro, too, fall victim to the desert. Though they have been making great time and are near rescue, the journey is just too much, and they are unable to push on any farther.
It is now Wednesday, May 23rd. More men in the main group have fallen to the ground, and a small “commando” group of five, led by the Manzano brothers, makes a “final dash for salvation.” They continue to eat cactuses as they go, looking desperately for anyone from the Border Patrol. They approach the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range, aware that they are “dying,” when Mike F. spots them.
The men have been in the desert since Saturday afternoon—many are dead and almost none are still able to move. The Manzano brothers—who are now on their third journey through this desert—are perhaps more desperate than anyone for help, and they finally find it.
Mario tells Mike F. that there are more men in the hills, and that one of them is his brother. Mike calls in a “Banzai Run” for as many officers as possible. Within ten minutes of Mike F. finding the men and giving them water, the Migra are already “fully engaged” in a rescue mission. Mike F., with the lost walkers in his car, drives through the desert, cutting for more sign. Far above him, a Marine pilot in a helicopter spots ten bodies on the ground—nine are alive, and are loaded into choppers, disoriented and exhausted. Border Patrol agents and officials from the sheriff’s department all join in the search, mobilizing to save whomever they still can.
The realization that there are huge numbers of men dying in the desert mobilizes the Wellton unit and sends them flying off into the desert. Many are saved due to the desperate efforts of the Border Patrol, and the lives of the Wellton 26 are at last valued and deemed worth saving. In this way, Urrea shows the Border Patrol in a heroic light, at least at this moment.
While “cutters, Marines, cops, EMTs, [and] rangers” hunt all night for other survivors, Mendez remains asleep under a bush. When he and Lauro are finally found, Lauro is dead. Edgar Adrien Martinez, who has been lying in the heat for days, dies just as a rescue helicopter lands on the ground nearby. Elsewhere, more and more dead bodies are found.
Many lives were lost, some just as rescue and hope were arriving. The senseless number of deaths—and the cruelty and unfairness of the timing of many of them—are almost mythic in scope.