KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A disoriented California hiker lost in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday was airlifted by the Tennessee Army National Guard to the UT Medical Center.
The park’s Emergency Communications Center received a notification around 8:20 a.m. Jan. 18 that Andrew Burtzloff, 28, of San Diego, was lost due to the heavy snow on the Appalachian Trail. The park used location data provided by Burtzloff’s cell phone to locate him off the trail in a ravine near Gregory Bald along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
Burtzloff reported being wet, cold, and had signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Once it was realized that it would take six to eight hours to get to him by ground, the park called the National Guard and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency for assistance.
“The park has a long-standing partnership with these agencies that enables us to work together to complete complex search and rescue operations in extremely hazardous environments such as this,” said Tennessee District Ranger Jared St. Clair. “We are appreciative of their dedication in helping us reach those in need.”
By 10 a.m. a medical UH60 Army Blackhawk from McGhee Tyson Airport was on its way and reached the search location approximately 15 minutes later. After a brief search, the crew located the stranded hiker in waist deep snow.
Two medics were lowered by winch to Burtzloff after it was determined that trees and terrain made landing the helicopter an impossibility. The hiker and two medics were hoisted safely aboard the hovering aircraft and arrived at UT Medical Center around 11:20 a.m.
The flight crew consisted of CW3 Andrew Ridley, pilot in command; 1st Lt. Justin Hyler, pilot; and Sgt. Chris Farrar, crew chief. Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Banta and Sgt. 1st Class Giovanni DeZuani were the flight paramedics.
The national park received 12 to 18 inches of snow at the highest elevations from Friday, Jan. 14, through Monday, Jan. 17. Most park roads were closed due to hazardous conditions, but many park trails remain accessible along the park boundary. Backpackers were cautioned about the inclement weather. For more information about hiking safety, please visit the park’s website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hikingsafety.htm.