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Rescued hiker was trapped by chest-high snow for nearly 24 hours

9:58 AM, Nov 3, 2012   |    comments
  • Photo of Stephen Ainsworth from his online hiking journal.
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The hiker who had to be rescued from the Appalachian Trail was able to walk from the helicopter to a waiting ambulance.  Steven Ainsworth, 56, was taken to LeConte Medical Center to be checked out.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol Aviation and Special Operations Unit in a Huey helicopter performed the rescue.  

Ainsworth told his rescuers he was hiking the Appalachian Trail in reverse, and was actually in one of the most rugged sections of the trail this week, when the snow hit.  He said when he set out, he was expecting about six inches of snow.  Instead, he faced snow depths of 4 to 5 feet in places.  He was actually stuck for several days before being able to call for help.  He told his rescuers his feet felt like "blocks of ice."

Park rangers were unable to reach Ainsworth because of the snow depth and his location, so the park contacted the THP for help.  The crew from Nashville met park officials at the airport in Sevier County for a briefing, then took off for the hiker's location. 

According to THP, they were able to locate the shelter site where Ainsworth had stayed for one to two nights, then tracked his footprints in the snow for about a mile before spotting his camp.

The crew used the rescue hoist to lower one of the troopers to the ground, where the snow was chest high after stepping out. He then dressed the hiker in a "screamer suit," placed him in the hoist, and the troopers lifted him to the helicopter.

THP says the total rescue time took approximately 45 minutes, including a 17-mile flight to the top of the mountain where the hiker was located.


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Rescuers have successfully air-lifted a stranded hiker into a helicopter, and they are on their way to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge Airport in Sevierville. 

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A rescue helicopter has launched to attempt to rescue a distressed hiker on the Appalachian Trail.

The helicopter launched at 2:00 pm, and rescuers will attempt to hoist the hiker off the trail and to safety.  The hiker has been identified as Steven Ainsworth, 56, from Washington North Carolina.

If winds are too high for a hoist operation, rescuers will attempt  to drop supplies to Ainsworth's location.

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A rescue operation is underway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to rescue a hiker in distress on the Appalachian Trail.

The Cherokee, NC Police Department received a call around 3:30 p.m. Thursday from a single male hiker in distress in a remote section of the Trail, park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said.

The hiker made the call directly using his cell phone. He told rangers he is somewhere between the Pecks Corner and Tricorner Knob Shelters, which are located just across the North Carolina state line.

Park officials sent two rangers out by foot to the general area the hiker described to find him, assess his condition, and stablize him as needed.

The rangers hiked for nine hours along the steep terrain, but had to stop for shelter in a cabin on the Trail to rest after dealing with high winds and snow drifts 4 feet to 5 feet high.

The rangers are estimated to be about four miles away from the stranded hiker.

Park officials are evaluating the possibilities of an air rescue with the Tennessee Highway Patrol at some point today.

The hiker was able to make another short, broken phone call to Cherokee Police this morning and told authorities that he hunkered down at his location and made it through the night.

Park officials are not sure what type of shelter he is using.

The hiker also reported that he may not be able to walk out, but park officials aren't sure of his full condition.

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