HAYWOOD COUNTY, N.C. — The Transylvania County Rescue Squad and Cocke County EMA said they have found the missing New Jersey man who disappeared on July 27 alive and in fair condition.
According to rescue crews, Kevin Lynch was found after a multi-day search in Haywood County. They said he was found less than a mile away from where he had been last spotted.
Lynch was taken to the Haywood Regional Medical Center to be evaluated and reunited with his family. Rangers said his family has been gathered near the command center daily since his disappearance.
Rescuers and family were especially worried for Lynch because he reportedly suffers from mild dementia.
According to Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers, searchers found Lynch alert and responsive on the southeast area of the park near the Cataloochee Divide Trail.
Rangers said team members discovered significant leads after finding a hat and sunglasses roughly 1,600 feet southeast of the trail. Shortly after, they said they found fresh footprints leading toward Ferguson Cabin.
Rangers said search efforts were consolidated and redirected to areas near those clues, and within hours search teams found him after he responded to their calls.
“From the moment we learned of Lynch’s disappearance, Haywood County Emergency Management and National Park Service staff worked quickly to take an aggressive and proactive approach with search tactics due to the dire circumstances surrounding Lynch’s health condition,” said Park Chief Ranger Lisa Hendy. "The successful utilization of a joint command structure was definitely a contributing factor to the success of this operation. We cannot thank all of the agencies who supported this effort enough for their dedicated commitment to bringing Mr. Lynch home safely to his family.”
More than 30 organizations were involved with the search, which included helicopter, drone, and K-9 teams.
Hendy called Lynch a brave man for surviving after spending days in the Smokies wilderness. She said when rescuers found him, he was in good spirits and cracked a few jokes with them.
Hendy said the good weather up in the mountains was a key factor to his survival, as it made the task of finding him in the rugged terrain less arduous. She said crews were combing and literally clawing through sections of thick forest in order to locate Lynch.
Emergency Services Director Greg Shuping had nothing but gratitude for the support and prayers from people in the community for giving up their time and homes to help find Lynch safely.
Shuping said Lynch traveled a fairly long distance. At the moment, they aren't sure why Lynch disappeared initially and are trying to interview him to learn more to help inform future rescues.
Former Updates (7/31/19 - Noon):
Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are still searching for a 58-year-old man who was last seen near the Cataloochee Divide Trail in Haywood County, North Carolina, on Saturday, July 27.
More crews have now joined the efforts to find Kevin Mark Lynch, who was reportedly last seen walking along the boundary of the park at The Swag resort.
He is approximately 5'5" tall, weighs about 150 pounds, has brown salt-and-pepper hair and brown eyes, a news release from GSMNP said Monday.
He was last seen wearing brown cotton shorts, a brown shirt with a whitetail deer on it and a camouflage baseball cap, the release said.
Lynch is from Woodbridge, New Jersey. He suffers from dementia and may be confused about his location, according to the release.
On Wednesday, park officials said trackers and search dog teams will examine any points of interest.
"Grid teams will expand their search corridor from 100 ft. to 300 ft. off trails and streams. All-terrain vehicles will be utilized to search several old logging roads and manways located on private land in the search area," a release said.
The park also said a contract helicopter was deployed on Wednesday to scan the terrain for specific geologic features, such as rock outcrops and grassy balds, to help identify areas that may be utilized by Lynch.
As of Wednesday, a total of 209 searchers, trackers, and incident command personnel associated with 32 agencies were being utilized in the search effort today, with approximately 60 agencies assisting in the operation over the course of the entire operation, the park said.
“We are very fortunate to have had such an outpouring of support from local emergency services agencies,” said Incident Commander Mike Scheid. “We have the best of the best out in the field searching for Mr. Lynch and we are doing everything we can to bring him home safely”. “We continue to be very optimistic that the outcome of this search operation will be a positive one”.
Search operations remained limited to a number of trained professionals to ensure a systematic and thorough search of the area.
Over the course of the last four days, the park said grid searchers, trackers, and numerous dog teams have searched a five-mile radius intensely looking for any clues as to Lynch’s direction of travel. Searchers have hiked all trails in the area looking for Lynch, posting informational flyers at trailheads, and interviewing hikers.
"By limiting the number of searchers in the area, rangers have the best chance to find Lynch quickly," it read. "Dog teams and trackers can be hampered by additional people in the area when searchers are looking for signs of hiker travel."
"On Sunday, July 28, North Carolina Highway Patrol utilized a helicopter with FLIR technology, forward-looking infrared (FLIR), in an effort to locate sources of heat in the search area," a release said.
Since Sunday, park officials said drones have been utilized daily to get a bird’s eye view of the area.
Law enforcement officials and fire departments have gone door-to-door notifying homeowners adjacent to the park boundary to be on the lookout for Lynch, according to the park. Over 400 residences have been contacted thus far and their associated outbuildings and barns searched.
"Teams are navigating through dense vegetation and difficult terrain in the remote southeast area of the park looking for any evidence of human travel," it read. "Park officials requested the assistance of six canine search teams through Haywood County Emergency Management. In total, 180 searchers, investigators, and incident command personnel are being utilized in the search effort."
Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Great Smoky Mountains National Park dispatch at (865) 436-1230.
Original Story (7/28/19): Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are searching for a 58-year-old man near the Cataloochee Divide Trail in Haywood County, North Carolina. Haywood County has issued a silver alert.
The park said Kevin Mark Lynch was last seen at The Swag Resort along the boundary of the park at 3:20 p.m. on Saturday. It said Lynch has mild dementia and may be confused about his location.
He was not carrying any equipment at the time of his disappearance.
If you have seen Lynch or have any information, please contact the park’s Emergency Communications Center at 865-436-1230.
The park is also looking for people who may have been hiking on the Cataloochee Divide Trail after 3:00 p.m. yesterday or have any information regarding the individual after this time period.
Approximately 30 searchers from the National Park Service, Haywood County Search and Rescue and other partner organizations were in the area Sunday looking for Lynch both on and off the trail.
The park said the photo above was taken of Lynch on the day he was last seen. Lynch was wearing a brown colored shirt and hat.