Hiker rescued in the Smokies: 'I was going to die'

A weekend hike in the Smokies turned into an ordeal for an Alabama man, his son and son-in-law when a storm struck. April 6, 2015

KNOXVILLE -- It started as a check mark on Brad Phillip's bucket list.

"I always wanted to hike some of that Appalachian Trail," he said Monday afternoon.

What better place to do that hike than at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Friday, the Birmingham native, along with his son, Clint, and his son-in-law Jason Wilbanks, hit the trails to fulfill that dream.

Things, however, did not turn out as planned.

"I can see city lights in Townsend, way off in the distance. And I can see lightning pop out there, too," Phillips recalled. "And that storm rolled in and it got worse, and worse, and worse."

Friday's severe weather hit the Smokies so quickly, the trio had little time to prepare. Rain and cold stopped Phillips in his tracks, and the party needed help.

"I take three or four steps and I would have to rest. And three and four steps, and I would have to rest. That's how bad the hypothermia was," he said.

Phillips could barely move, and could only do one other thing: he wanted his son and son in law to move on, without him.

"I'm going to crawl underneath this bush and I'm going to cover up the best I can," he recalled. "You go on and send help if you can. I told him I loved him, the way he went."

Hours passed, the rain continued, and all the 56-year-old could do on saturated ground was look up -- until he heard a voice.

"God, please turn them around."

His son and son in law had found help.

"One of his friends tagging along a couple of minutes behind them... he heard me praying. And he's the one who found me," Phillips said.

When the storm cleared Saturday, a THP helicopter would pick Phillips up and take him to UT Medical. Even after hours of near freezing temperatures and cold rain, the man is fine today.

"I don't know. They all think I should have been dead."

He said what saved him was not a sense of survival, but a higher power.

"Some reason, you're still supposed to be here," he said.


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