Two hikers lost in the Shining Rock Wilderness area in Haywood County were rescued Saturday evening thanks to the efforts of helicopter crews and nearly 100 ground based rescuers from over two dozen local, state, and federal agencies.
Haywood County first responders began searching for the two hikers Friday after they called 911 for help. Early Saturday morning, the hikers called 911 again and said they were able to start a small fire and they had found a makeshift shelter. The two men reported being very cold and completely out of food and water.
In addition to local rescue crews, five specially trained and equipped NC Emergency Management sponsored mountain rescue teams from across western North Carolina were called in to help due to the steep terrain, below freezing temperatures, snow and ice. With sub-zero temperatures expected, and chances of surviving another night very low, air resources were requested to help locate the men as the severe weather cleared the area.
A State Highway Patrol helicopter crew using thermal imaging found the pair shortly before 5 p.m. and relayed their coordinates to a NC Emergency Management Helo Aquatic Rescue Team (NC HART) that was refueling in Asheville. The NC HART crew, consisting of a NC National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter and rescue technicians from the Charlotte Fire Department, departed Asheville to pick up the hikers.
Low on fuel, the Highway Patrol helicopter had to leave the scene. Reaching the coordinates after nightfall, the NC HART crew was unable to visually relocate the hikers using night vision goggles and called in a third National Guard helicopter that was training in the area and was equipped with thermal imaging. The hikers were relocated, picked up by the NC HART crew and flown to Asheville, where they were transferred to local EMS crews at about 7 p.m. for transport to the hospital.
“With below-zero temperatures expected tonight, time was running out,” said NC Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “We are fortunate that all these resources were trained and available, and worked together to execute this extremely complicated rescue. The key to the success of this response was teamwork from all the responders cooperating for the best possible outcome.’’
The condition of the two men was not immediately known. Also assisting in the search was the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, State Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Efforts were hindered by the poor cell phone reception in the search area and the hiker’s phone died before it could be triangulated.