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Update: Three Appalachian Trail Hikers Need Rescue In Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Editor's note: This updates with plans to use a helicopter to pull the trio out of the backcountry.

Winter's latest punch to the East caught three Appalachian Trail hikers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park unprepared and needing to be rescued by rangers, who called in a helicopter to lift the three out.

The three men from Gaffney, South Carolina, -- Shawn Hood, Steven White, and Jonathan Dobbins -- had set out from Fontana Dam on Thursday with plans for a ten-day hike. But last night they called rangers to say they were cold and wet and needed help as they were unable to walk and had no shelter.

Responding rangers were able to reach the trio -- all between the ages of 21 and 32 -- and brought dry clothing and tents.

"They are being treated for hypothermia and possible frostbite. All three are very weak and cannot walk," said Kent Cave, the park's supervisory ranger. "Plans have been made to extricate the hikers using a helicopter from the North Carolina Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team (HART) early this afternoon."

Overnight temperatures in the park were reported to be "in the single digits and winds gusting to 35 miles per hour made wind chills near 20 degrees below zero," the park reported. "Blowing snow created drifts up to two feet. Rescue efforts were hampered by weather, road, and trail conditions, as well as the remote, rugged location. The men were located some 5 miles from the nearest trailhead."


I've always been the one picking up others, but keep on guessing wrong.

Gee Rick, why am Im I not surprised that you confuse the expectation of personal responsiblity with a "total lack of compassion". Have you ever taken responsibility or have you always had someone pick up after you?

And be certain you NEVER have an accident. Although I do have to agree that there may be times when the "victim" may really need to be billed.

There does seem to be a certain inconsistency when an ambulance company -- including those run by our tax-supported city or county fire departments -- may bill for ambulance services while SAR organizations may not. Not long ago one of my neighbors had a heart attack. Ambulance bill from the city fire department was over $600. When a family member needed ambulance services a couple of years ago in a city served by a volunteer fire and ambulance service it was over $1400. Happily, health insurance kicked in for both.

There are many places in the midwest where fire departments are actually fire companies in every sense of the word. Homeowners must subscribe for fire service every year. It's not terribly expensive, but because the fire service is not tax supported in those rural areas it's the only way the departments may support themselves. As you drive along roads there, you'll see what look like license plates attached to gate posts and mailbox posts. Those are the home's fire subscription identifier. If a fire department rolls up and there is no identifier on display, no hose hits the ground. But can you imagine the anguish of the officer in command who has to stand back and watch someone's home or barn burn?

I don't think I agree with that approach, but given the laws of the land there, what other options exist for the fire departments? Some folks in the fire service have taken to calling this the Tea Party Fire Brigade. Others claim it's simply wise use of taxpayer dollars to allow homeowners the freedom to choose.

Could or should we have Tea Party SAR teams?

Well, with such an absolute absence of compassion, please do us all a favor and NEVER volunteer to help with a rescue, even if you are on the scene. Your judgement of the victim would emanate from you and help them to feel worse. Just go ahead and hike on out ahead of the rescue crew and bring your calculator & invoice forms to the trailhead for rapid and timely billing.

There are cases where the victim was concerned about the cost and walked or crawled out, sometimes aggravating the injury with lifetime consequences.

And who's fault is that? Mine? Yours? Oh, maybe the guy that made the bad decision. Life has consequences. Bad decisions lead to bad consequences. Eliminate the bad consequences and there is no penalty for bad decisions which only means more people will make bad decisions. Is that what you want to encourage?

but it is a small minority,

Minority or majority - they need to pay.

About "NPS Maps." I never cease to be amazed at how many people I meet who are hiking backcountry trails and trying to use the maps found in the NPS mini-folders they were handed at the gate. Those maps are not intended for any purpose other than general orientation for visitors.

I don't think it's my imagination at work when I think there are more and more rescues caused by a growing disconnect between Americans and the Great Outdoors. How many of these situations result from people whose previous outdoor experiences have come from watching a few TV shows?

I'm afraid the times when youngsters learned how to get along outside by being outside are disappearing.

There are cases where the victim was concerned about the cost and walked or crawled out, sometimes aggravating the injury with lifetime consequences. In many parks, the agency does exactly what EC states in the sentence following "idiocy". Having been associated with rescue and fire now for over 50 years (Yellowstone and Yosemite), it is my own experience that the vast majority of visitors we assisted/rescued deserved said and were extremely grateful. In most cases it was inexperience, but in those cases were reckless disregard was shown, we often cited them into court. Many generously donate to the SAR fund for the park if they have money to do so. It was a very rewarding job to be involved in these efforts. I could go on and on about this, but do not want to burden the website. EC, your point is true in some cases, as it is true in almost any public sector program, but it is a small minority, at least that is what I have seen. I still support the effort of these hikers, ill advised as it was, again we must all remember those times we needed assistance, especially the first time we tried something, myself included.

Good breakdown, Kurt. And legitimate question. I believe the answer lies in how this compares to other years of backcountry use in the Smokies. Every year sees some type of closure that is weather related here in the Smokies. Right now, Newfound gap road is closed again and has been off and on for weeks due to snow and ice. That didn't stop us from going into the backcountry but we know how to get around the roads. The tornado damage on Cane Creek, and Beard Cane trails only impacts two backcountry sites out of over 110. Why there is not data for the months in question is, well, to be expected. But I don't think you can argue that backcountry usage is down appreciably and it happens to coincide with the fee imposition. I know folks who are abandoning the Smokies entirely because of the fee. AT hikers are going around the Smokies and the neighboring wilderness areas are booming such as Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests where there are no such restrictions. I'll bet a good story can be found in their numbers.

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