07 January 2017

Missing hikers found uninjured but cold and hungry in Pisgah National Forest's Shining Rock Wilderness

Two men missing since Thursday in the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina have been found. A news release Saturday evening stated the men were airlifted and were being transported to an area hospital. Helicopters belonging to The North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Mountain Area Medical Airlift and NCHART (North Carolina Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team), aided in locating and extracting the hikers. No additional information on their condition is expected this evening.

County officials confirmed that the hikers were spotted by a helicopter brought in to aid the search and the helicopter crew was able to let the hikers know they had been spotted.

Big East Fork Trailhead command center. (Photo The Mountaineer)
The two men, one identified as 23-year-old David Crockett of Charlotte, NC, started a day-hike around noon on Thursday into the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest near the Big East Fork Trailhead. They were able to contact authorities in a 911 call early Saturday morning, but still had no idea where they were. Crockett's mother, Denise Crockett, confirmed to family friends that her son and his hiking partner, who hasn't been identified, were found, according to Haywood County's The Mountaineer newspaper.

Crockett is a student at UNC-Charlotte, studying accounting and finance. His mother and two siblings live in Albemarle. He is also a highly esteemed cheerleading coach of the Rockstar cheerleading squad from Gastonia, whose members were understandably very worried for his well-being, according to The Mountaineer. Family friend Kindra Rabon said the men were not injured from the ordeal but were understandably cold and hungry when rescued.

Crockett's mother said David is relatively new to hiking, having taken up the hobby just a few months ago. He has only been on a few small day hikes prior to this, she said.

“I’m sure he wasn’t really prepared for the situation he found himself in,” she said.

David Crockett, at left in orange, with the Rockstars,
the cheerleading squad he coaches in Gastonia.
(Photo courtesy Kendall Hunt to The Mountaineer)
A large rescue effort was mobilized to find the missing hikers. The men called authorities from a non-traceable cell phone on Friday morning and indicated they were off-trail and lost. Neither man was injured and they said they were staying in place, awaiting rescue, according to WLOS-News 13 in Western North Carolina.

The Mountaineer reported that the men again contacted authorities shortly after daybreak on Saturday, letting them know their fire was still going and they had found shelter. Teams were deployed on Saturday to the highest points on the ridge with high-powered binoculars capable of seeing even the faintest smoke signal.

Haywood County EMS Coordinator Greg Shuping told The Mountaineer that yesterday — and late into last night — crews searched areas near the trail and the highest points along the ridges where there is the greatest possibility to gain a cell signal, but didn't have any luck.

The Mountaineer reported that Haywood County Public Information Officer Donna Stewart said the hikers had been out in the wilderness since Thursday afternoon. Search teams were dispatched Friday morning, Stewart said, and three search teams worked through the night. Rested teams, which are highly trained in mountain search techniques, began searching Saturday. Each team consists of four to six members. The search teams are associated with agencies in multiple counties, including the Haywood County Search and Rescue.

Search and rescue teams were called out to the Big East Fork trailhead on U.S. 276 around 10 a.m. Friday and were operating out of a base camp set up where the hikers' vehicle was found. The camp included two trailers and a tent.

The trail into the wilderness area is unblazed and extremely steep and rugged in places. Conditions are difficult even in summer months. During the winter, the trail often ices over and can become extremely treacherous.

Friday afternoon, Haywood County EMS Supervisor Ben Clausen told The Mountaineer that because the cell phone the hikers used to call 911 had such a low battery, communication had been spotty and brief and their location was unknown.

"They have no idea where they are," he said. "They have no compass, maps, GPS, nothing with them."

Starting Friday night, a special alpine rescue team joined the search. "They are mountain search and rescue teams that are actually trained in alpine type search and rescue situations," he said. "They’re specially equipped for cold weather snow search situations."

Temperatures dipped into the low teens Friday night when heavy snowfall impeded visibility as crews searched through the night. Temperatures are predicted to reach 0 degrees tonight.

As searchers combed the mountain Saturday, the wind speed was just 5 miles an hour, but the combination of wind and low temperatures created a penetrating cold. The conditions were far worse for the lost hikers than those searching for them as the teams of four that were methodically searching the target area had gear designed for just such circumstances.

-- All information obtained from The Mountaineer Newspaper in Haywood County, NC and WLOS News 13 in Western North Carolina. Read more about it on The Mountaineer's website.

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