Spam, fruit, and rainwater sustained a lost 70-year-old backpacker in Great Smoky Mountains National Park who was hoisted to safety Sunday morning by a Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter after being stranded atop an outcrop for the past week. Albert "Morgan" Briggs thanked the whirlybird's crew and park rangers for plucking him out of the backcountry and after meeting with park officials headed home to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, with family members.
Mr. Briggs, who had set out on August 22 for a four-day trek through the park, became stuck atop Porters Mountain on Monday after traveling off-trail. The backpacker, a member of the park's "Ridge Runner" volunteer organization that regularly hikes sections of the Appalachian Trail through the park as a public service, told rangers he became disoriented in the heavily vegetated and steep terrain and that his trek was hampered by sheer rock bluffs, downed trees, and dense rhododendron thickets.
Park crews launched a search Wednesday for the man after he failed to show up Tuesday as planned. On Saturday crews on the AT thought they spotted a tent on Porters Mountain, and a contract helicopter made visible contact with Mr. Briggs. They then dropped a pack with food, water, and a park radio for communications. Due to the lateness of the day and the rugged terrain that would have to be crossed to reach Mr. Briggs, it was agreed that he would spend another night in his tent and be rescued Sunday morning.
Shortly before 9:30 a.m. Sunday the helicopter crew lowered a "hoisting seat" 250 feet down to Mr. Briggs, who was then hauled up and into the hovering whirlybird. The helicopter landed at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Mr. Briggs was then taken to the park’s Little River Ranger Station to talk to rangers about the circumstances that led to his rescue. He did not need any medical attention and left the park with family members. Over the five-day search effort about 40 National Park Service personnel were involved in the effort.