A 56-year-old North Carolina man stranded by wintry weather along the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was rescued Friday afternoon by a Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter crew.
Park officials say Steven Ainsworth, of Washington, North Carolina, was airlifted from a remote section of the trail after he became stranded by the snow storm associated with Hurricane Sandy that blanketed higher elevations of the park.
Just about 2 p.m. Friday the helicopter crew was summoned to help park rangers with their search-and-rescue mission. Two rangers who had set out Thursday night in a bid to reach Mr. Ainsworth struggled through 4- and 5-foot snow drifts and stopped about 4 miles short of the hiker's location to rest in a trail shelter.
While they recuperated, the park looked into the possibility of calling in the helicopter crew to reach Mr. Ainsworth, and about 2 p.m. Friday the bird headed into the park.
After rescuing the hiker, who was along the AT between the Pecks Corner and Tricorner Knob shelters, they transported him to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport in Sevierville, Tennessee. From there, he was taken by ambulance to LeConte Medical Center in Sevierville for medical evaluation, according to the park.
Further details about the man's condition were not immediately available.
Park dispatchers learned of the hiker's predicament Thursday night when he managed to place a 911 call through the Cherokee Police Department to the park. Two rangers headed out on foot Thursday night, but after nine hours of struggling through the deep snow they holed up in a shelter along the trail to rest.