Stranded hiker found and airlifted out of the Smokies, released

Stranded hiker found and airlifted out of the Smokies, released from hospital

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"I encountered snow up to my chest within 15 feet of the subject," rescuer Jeffrey Buchanan said. "I encountered snow up to my chest within 15 feet of the subject," rescuer Jeffrey Buchanan said.

GATLINBURG (WATE) - A hiker who was stranded in a remote area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was located and airlifted to safety Friday afternoon.

Hiker Steven Ainsworth, 56, of Washington, North Carolina, called park dispatchers from his cell phone to say he was in distress around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.

He told them he was hiking the trail and was somewhere between the Pecks Corner and Tricorner Knob shelters on the Appalachian Trail, in an area east of Mt. Le Conte.

A park spokeswoman said it is a very remote area of the park. Higher elevations in the park received significant snowfall earlier in the week.

Rescuers launched an air operation at 2:00 p.m. Friday to find and rescue Ainsworth. He was found a short time later and airlifted to a local airport.  He was taken to LeConte Medical Center, and he was released Friday night.

Jeffrey Buchanan with the Tennessee Highway Patrol helped to rescue the hiker.

"Once we got on station, they lowered me down on a hoist and I encountered snow up to my chest within 15 feet of the subject," Buchanan said. "It just took minutes to get over there to him, just trying to grab hold of trees and everything else, just trying to get to him."

Despite his ordeal, Buchanan said Ainsworth seemed to be in good spirits.

"He was doing well. He was very cheerful. He was cold, very cold. He said he thought he was getting a little bit of hypothermia," Buchanan said.

The biggest problem was Ainsworth's feet.

"He had regular walking shoes, trail shoes on. He didn't have snowshoes or snowboots. He didn't expect to encounter the snow like he did when he got there," he said.

The park initially dispatched two rangers by foot on Thursday to Ainsworth's approximate location to determine his exact location, assess his condition and stabilize him as needed.

After a nine-hour hike in steep terrain, high winds, and four to five foot snow drifts, the rangers had to temporarily take shelter in a cabin on the Appalachian Trail for a rest period.

The rangers were an estimated four miles from the hiker.

The Cherokee Police Department in North Carolina received another short telephone call from Ainsworth on Friday.

He told dispatchers that he made it through the night by hunkering down at his location.

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