27 December 2016

Missing airplane and three crash victims found in Great Smoky Mountains Tuesday, recovery of crash victims to begin Wednesday

A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard located a missing single engine airplane in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at around 4:43 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 27. The plane was found on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics were hoisted down to the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed, however, the three occupants of the plane were previously reported to be David Starling, 41, his girlfriend Kim Smith, 42, and his son Hunter Starling, 8, all of Bradford County, Florida.

According to friends of the family, the three people on board a plane
reported missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were
David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter, and Kim Smith.
 (Photo: WBIR.com)
Ground teams searched the steep and heavily wooded area on foot Tuesday, but were unable to access some areas due to the rough terrain.

A single Blackhawk helicopter was able to fly late afternoon and spotted the wreckage along the last known flight path of the missing aircraft. Recovery efforts of the three victims will begin on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

The plane was in route to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport from Florida on Monday, Dec. 26 when the Cessna 182 went missing over the park at approximately 4:01 pm. Search efforts were centered around an area west-southwest of LeConte Lodge.

National Park Service officials told WBIR News that they had deployed 10 people in three crews to hike off-trail looking for the aircraft, but heavy rain and thick fog complicated search efforts and made conditions treacherous. The National Transportation Safety Board will be the lead in the investigation of the plane crash.

Tabitha Ritz Starling with son Hunter Starling.
She had asked for prayers in helping find her son,
who was with his father on the ill-fated airplane
that crashed in the Smokies. (ActionNewsJax)
Hunter Starling's mother, Tabitha Ritz Starling, had asked for prayers on Facebook when she learned the airplane hadn't arrived at its destination. "Please pray for my baby. He is missing and his dad and girlfriend also. Please pray..." she wrote. Kim Smith's son Garrett has been in Tennessee helping search for the missing plane, according to Action News Jacksonville.

Jenna Bourne of ActionNewsJax reported that David Starling's cousin said David was president of a timber company and enjoyed fishing with his son Hunter, who loves baseball and ice cream.

In a recent post on Kim Smith's Facebook page she wrote, "Beyond blessed to have this sweet, caring man in my life! He's all I want for Xmas and all I need for a lifetime because he absolutely completes me! I love you David Starling to the moon & back!"

The National Park Service worked closely with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in this search effort.

(National Park Service and compiled reports)

07 December 2016

Two Tennessee juveniles charged with aggravated arson in Chimney Tops fire that spread to Gatlinburg, killing 14 and injuring more than 130

(From WBIR.com)

GATLINBURG - WBIR is reporting that authorities have charged two juveniles in connection with the fires that started last month in the Chimney Tops area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and swept through Sevier County, killing 14 and injuring more than 130.

The juveniles were charged with aggravated arson, but could face additional charges later. They are currently being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center. 

A judge will determine whether to grant the two bond and - if so - how much. They also could be tried as adults.

“Numerous hours have gone into conducting interviews and investigating this incident from every angle," said Mark Gwyn, director of the TBI, adding that local and state agencies “have been working tirelessly."

Officials said little about the identities of the juveniles other than they were not from Sevier County but were from Tennessee.

PREVIOUS: We are anticipating a 3 p.m. news conference in Sevier County that will provide new information about investigation into the wildfires that devastated that community last week.

According to a press release, speakers at the press conference will include Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Director Mark Gwyn, 4th District Attorney General James Dunn, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.

The press conference is set for 3 p.m. at the Sevier County Courthouse in Sevierville. You can watch it live on WBIR and WBIR.com.

The Chimney Tops 2 fire started on Nov. 23 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and officials said it was "human-caused." No charges have been filed and no suspects have been named so far.

That fire spread rapidly, fueled by strong winds, on November 28, into developed areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Fourteen people were killed as the fire spread and sparked new ones, dozens were injured, and 1,785 structures were destroyed, displacing thousands of people.

The Chimney Tops 2 fire is still smoldering in the park, burning 17,006 acres so far, but it is now 85% contained. A second fire, called the Cobby Nob fire which started the night of the fires in Gatlinburg, covers 803 acres and is 53 percent contained. Thanks to the rain, those fires have not increased in size in the past few days, but they are not completely out.

(© 2016 WBIR)

Kick off the New Year outdoors with a First Day Hike in one of America's State Parks in all 50 states

What better way to kick off the New Year than by getting a jump start burning off those extra holiday calories in the great outdoors? On New Year’s Day, America’s State Parks have all 50 states offering free, guided First Day Hike Programs. These hikes provide a means for individuals and families to welcome the coming year in the outdoors, exercising and connecting with nature.

Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country on the guided hikes. Numerous others hiked state park trails throughout the day.

Norris Dam State Park
The guided First Day Hikes are led by knowledgeable state park staff and volunteers.The distance and rigor vary from park to park, but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources with the comfort of an experienced guide so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.

America’s State Parks have been entrusted to preserve a variety of magnificent places from California to Maine. Hikers can experience a plethora of outdoor recreation activities including mountain and hill climbing, walks along lakes and beaches, exploration of trails through great forests, wildlife expeditions, bird-watching and much more.
Fort Loudoun State Historic Area

No matter where you are in the United States, you can find your park here! You can click here to find a First Day Hike near you. There's a First Day Hike for everyone, from easy to difficult.

One Knoxville-area First Day Hike will be at Fort Loudoun State Historic Park. Get more information here. Hikers will meet at the Tellico Blockhouse at 1 pm. Or, try Norris Dam State Park's First Day Hike. You can ring in the New Year on Norris Lake by moonlight with the 12:01 am hike that starts at the Tea Room at the East end of the park. The hike will end with a huge fire in the Tea Room with refreshments. Get more information here

Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge
Grandfather Mountain State Park in North Carolina is hosting a moderate hike starting on Holloway Mountain Road. Get more information here.

America’s State Park programs are committed to promoting outdoor recreation in hopes to help address obesity, especially in children. Furthermore, exercise and outdoor activities rejuvenate the mind and body, promoting overall mental and physical health and wellness. Many believe that time spent in nature enhances creativity and lifts our moods!

Take advantage of the resources that America’s State Parks have to offer and get connected to our country’s shared resources by finding a First Day Hike near you. Let this mark the beginning of a healthy lifestyle for the whole family!

03 December 2016

New death toll raised to 14 in Gatlinburg wildfires, new victim identified as 81-year-old Elaine Brown; friend says one of the missing was found alive

Photo @GSunDarrenReese/Twitter

GATLINBURG - Elaine Brown, age 81, of 2703 Clabo Road, Sevierville, has been identified as the 14th victim of the Gatlinburg wildfires. She sustained a medical event causing a single-vehicle accident on Wears Valley Road while fleeing the fire, according to a joint news release from Sevier County, City of Gatlinburg, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials.

Fourteen lives have been lost due to the swift-moving wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg and the number of fire-related injuries has been raised to 134. The Chimney Tops 2 fire was 38 percent contained on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4.

One of those listed as missing, Louise Brooke, who lived at 316 Ski Mountain Road, has reportedly been found alive, according to her acquaintance Shirley Shawhan, who said the TBI told her Brooke had been located. Shawhan said, "She used to work at a motel in Gatlinburg that my family and I used to go to. We have kept in touch with her over the years. We had a picture of her we wanted to get to the TBI since none were available. When I called them yesterday (Friday), to see about e-mailing the pic, they told me she'd been located alive." This has not been independently confirmed at this time.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Gatlinburg city officials will continue a damage assessment of roadways, infrastructure, and public works as the city prepares to open for business later this week. Property owners, business owners, renters, and lease holders will continue to have daily access to properties to allow appropriate time for cleaning, smoke removal, and securing their properties. Daily access will now be allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The curfew remains in effect from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
• 1,684 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire.
• There are currently 23 crews, 46 engines, 6 helicopters, 5 dozers, 713 total personnel fighting the Chimney Top 2 Fire as a part of the Type 1 Federal Incident Management Team.
• The evacuated areas in Gatlinburg are open for access each day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through the check point at Gatlinburg City Hall via East Parkway (Hwy. 321) and Glades Road. This restriction shall remain in effect until the city reopens for the general public.
• The curfew remains in effect from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. nightly.
• The Spur parkway is open only from Pigeon Forge to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. There will be no access to Wiley Oakley from the Spur.
• Wiley Oakley Drive and Greystone Heights Road remain inaccessible due to critical utility work. Emergency crews are working to open it as soon as possible.
• The Water Boil Advisory is still in effect for Gatlinburg, with the exception of the areas east of City Hall.
The following individuals lost their lives in the fire and have been identified by officials:

Rev. Ed Taylor
Rev. Ed Taylor, age 85, of 644 Woodland Drive in Gatlinburg. He was well-known for marrying thousands of couples as part of Gatlinburg Chapel Ministries and had just retired last year. A World War II veteran, Taylor died from smoke inhalation and was found outside his home, his son learned from investigators. His 10-year-old teacup poodle BeBe had been found wandering outside the home. The dog is now with family members.

Brad Phillips

Bradley Phillips, age 59, discovered at 412 Long Hollow Road. Family members told WBIR that he was found near his home and asked for prayers during this difficult time. Family members had posted on Twitter after the fire when they had been unable to contact Phillips, asking for help locating him.

Constance Reed, 34; and daughters Chloe Reed, 12, and Lily Reed, 9, all of 347 Wiley Oakley Dr.
Constance Reed with
 husband Michael Reed
Lily Reed with father Michael
Chloe Reed
All three were discovered near their Wiley Oakley home. Constance Reed's husband Michael Reed had gone for a ride with their 15-year-old son Nicholas, unaware the fire was near their home. His wife had called to say the fire was across the road from their house and he told her to call 911 and get out of the house. He tried to drive back to reach his wife and daughters, but the road was blocked. Constance Reed and her daughters didn't make it as they attempted to flee on foot, according to Sheriff's Department reports. Michael Reed was notified of his wife's death around 10 a.m. this morning, Saturday, Dec. 3, and learned that his daughters were the two unidentified bodies found with his wife, according to Dana Soehn of the National Park Service at a press conference Saturday afternoon.

Alice Hagler
Alice Hagler, age 70, a retired grandmother who lived in Chalet Village. She had two hip replacements and couldn't move around very well, according to her son. She was found in her cabin. She was worried about the heavy winds and was on the phone with her son James Wood, who lived with her but wasn't home at the time, when her cabin caught fire around 8:30 p.m. Monday. He told her to get out, but she didn't make it. Her other son, Lyle Wood, is pastor of a church in Savannah, Georgia.

Jon and Janet Summers, age 61, of Memphis, both perished in the fire at Chalet Village. They were vacationing in Gatlinburg with their three sons, Branson Summers, 23, and twins Wesley and Jared Summers, 22. The sons were separated from their parents after the family tried to escape from Chalet Village by car but a downed tree blocked their path and they attempted to escape the flames on foot, according to CNN. The boys were found together, unconscious from smoke inhalation, and suffering burns, according to Fox13 News. Their uncle Jim Summers said the boys had to run through walls of fire all the way down the mountain as the heavy winds fanned flames into an inferno on both sides of the road. Jared was released from the hospital Thursday, but Wesley and Jared remain hospitalized at Vanderbilt Medical Center's burn center.

John Tegler, age 71, and his wife Janet Tegler, age 70, of Canada, were found dead on Skyline Drive in Chalet Village. The couple, originally from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, was visiting their Gatlinburg vacation home to celebrate the long Thanksgiving weekend in the US, their son-in-law Dave LaPointe told the Canadian Press. They were attempting to flee when the wildfire overtook the Chalet Village area and were found near their home. They would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They were in Gatlinburg with their daughter Jessica Tegler of Roswell, GA, who had already left because she had to be back to work in Roswell on Monday. The Teglers were planning to leave Gatlinburg Monday, but the road was closed.

May Evelyn Norred Vance, 75, of Gatlinburg, died of a heart attack trying to escape the fire and as a result of suffering from smoke inhalation, officials said. She was a grandmother and the wife of Jimmy Vance Sr. The Vances were formerly of Nashville.

--An unidentified person found in a room at the Travelers Motel off U.S. Highway 321.

--Three unidentified people found in a home on Campbell Lead Road.

Pam Johnson - Missing
STILL LISTED AS MISSING is Pamela "Mama Pam" Johnson, 59, a longtime employee of McKinney's Market on Highway 321. She left the market before it burned and has not been found. She was living at Travelers Motel in Gatlinburg on Ski Mountain Road. Her granddaughter Karyssa Dalton told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that Pam had a backpack filled with supplies and was ready to evacuate. She was in a room at the Travelers Motel caring for a neighbor's pets, and was planning to go back to her own room to get her disabled chihuahua if the situation got worse. Karyssa tried to call her grandmother back at around 10:36 p.m. Monday night, but she didn't answer. Authorities, Karyssa said, told her the body found at the Traveler Motel was a male and was not in her grandmother's friend's room nor in her own room. Earlier reports that Johnson had been found at LeConte Medical Center proved to be inaccurate.

***UPDATE: Louise Brooke, who lived at 316 Ski Mountain Rd. No photo available. Friends have been trying unsuccessfully to contact Brooke. ***A friend of Brooke's, Shirley Shawhan, reports that she called the TBI to provide a picture of Brooke and was told that she had been found alive. This has not been confirmed by authorities at this time.

Charles "Buck" and Diane Taylor, who lived on Ivy Road in Gatlinburg, haven't been heard from since the fire. Their friend Joyce Clemmer posted on the Gatlinburg Fire Missing or Found Facebook page on Dec. 2 at 8 a.m. that their phone was not accepting calls and they have not responded to texts.

Officials released the following details regarding the coordinated public response in warning the public about the fire storm. Officials worked diligently to coordinate the warning to the public before and during the catastrophic wildfire event that impacted Gatlinburg, other communities in Sevier County, and the park. Throughout the day, on Monday, November 28, officials sent media releases, utilized social media, and held media briefings to alert the public about the status of the fire to help them remain aware of the urgency of the continuously evolving situation.

Notifications were sent to the general public through widespread media coverage beginning with multiple news releases from the park beginning at approximately 10:00 a.m., regular news briefings beginning at 2:00 p.m., and the downtown Gatlinburg siren alert system to warn the public about the impending dangerous winds and fire threat. Officials made door-to-door notifications, beginning at noon, to affected communities.

Throughout the day, the command post was in contact with state emergency agencies about emergency response. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the command post contacted the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) requesting an Emergency Alert System (EAS) evacuation message to be sent to the Gatlinburg area through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a system which has the capability of sending text messages to mobile devices. However, communications between the agencies was interrupted due to disabled phone, internet, and electrical services. Due to this communication failure, the emergency notification was not delivered as planned through IPAWS as an EAS message or as a text message to mobile devices. At the same time, the National Weather Service was unable to reach the local command post. Through collaboration with the Sevier County Dispatch, they were able to deliver the mandatory evacuation alert through an EAS message to radio and television only. Once communications were re-established, TEMA was able to send a mobile message later in the evening via IPAWS asking Sevier County residents to stay off mobile devices except for emergency use.

Despite the catastrophic events that created barriers to communication, officials utilized all resources available to them at the time to warn the public of the impending threat. The multi-agency response of firefighters, police, and emergency responders continues to work efficiently as they enter the recovery phase.