Family friends say missing hikers have been found

By Staff reports | Jan 07, 2017

The mother of David Crockett,  one of the missing hikers, has spoken to friends of the family, and has confirmed to Kindra Rabon that the hikers have been found.

"They might have to spend the night, but the rescuers are bringing them food, blankets and clothes. The terrain is rough, so they won't navigate it at night," Rabon said in a message to The Mountaineer on Facebook.

The hikers are not injured, just hungry and cold, Rabon said.

County officials confirmed the information, but initially could provide no details other than to say the hikers were spotted by a helicopter brought in to aid the search and was able to let the hikers know they had been spotted.

A news release sent at 7:22 p.m. stated, "The hikers missing in Haywood County have been airlifted and are 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."

Mid-afternoon Saturday, a flat area across from the Big East Fork Trailhead was filled with vehicles as rescue workers spent day two searching for two hikers who left for a day hike Thursday.

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 penetrate. The conditions are far worse for the lost hikers than those searching for them as the teams of four that are methodically searching the target area have gear designed for just such circumstances.

Haywood County spokesperson Dona Stewart said search teams from several surrounding counties were on the scene and were working in shifts.

One of the searchers is Kyle James of Waynesville, who has worked with the Haywood County Rescue Squad for the past several years. While James was an avid hiker, the training he went through to to become certified for searches such as this was rigorous.

"The training is very involved," he said. "They want to make sure you will be safe, and that you will be able to keep the person rescued safe."

James was with a team of four that searched through the night Friday, and his team was one of three working Friday night during the low visibility conditions.

Those searching at night have lamps and all the needed gear to safely navigate the snow and ice that is often encountered during winter searches.

At the base camp, a mobile unit, fully equipped with power to run the computer programs and communications equipment, served as the search coordination site.

The cramped quarters have space for maps to line the walls, a small table where coordinates are laid out and plans are made for the next steps.

In a section separated by a small window, Virginia McGill, the planning section chief for  Emergency Management Service

Her planning computer plotted which areas had been covered and which areas could be targeted next.

"It's a classic mystery," she said. "It's like searching for a needle in a haystack."