Missing hikers survived second night in snow and bitter cold

By Kyle Perrotti and Allison Richmond | Jan 07, 2017
Photo by: Kyle Perrotti

Hikers lost in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area called placed a 911 call shortly after sun up on Saturday to report their fire was still going and they had found shelter.

Haywood County Emergency Services Coordinator Greg Shuping said rescue efforts will be stepped up today and may include the use of aircraft.

"That is absolutely one option we’re pursuing," he said.

Additionally, Shuping — along with Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher — are pursuing every resource possible on all levels, from local to state to federal assistance. Currently, teams are being sent to the highest points on the ridge with high-powered binoculars capable of seeing even the faintest smoke signal.

Shuping said the reason rescuers were unable to gather coordinates based on the emergency call is that the call was placed from a disposable cell phone — a type of phone which is untraceable.

Yesterday — and late into last night — crews searched areas near the trail and the highest points along the ridges where there is the greatest possibility to gain a cell signal, but didn't have any luck. Shuping said Saturday's search will be even more in-depth, but he also noted that there isn't any guaranteed solution in a situation like this.

"There is no silver bullet in these emergency situations," he said.

According to Haywood County Public Information Officer, Donna Stewart, the hikers have been out in the wilderness since Thursday afternoon. Search teams were dispatched Friday morning, Stewart said, and three search teams worked through the night. Rested teams, which are highly trained in mountain search techniques, began searching Saturday. Each team consists of four to six members. The search teams are associated with agencies in multiple counties, including the Haywood County Search and Rescue.

Search and rescue teams were called out to the Big East Fork trailhead on U.S. 276 around 10 a.m. Friday and are operating out of a base camp  set up where the hikers' vehicle was found. The camp includes two trailers and a tent. No information is available about the names of the hikers or where they are from.

The trail into the wilderness area is unblazed and extremely steep and rugged in places. Conditions are difficult even in summer months. During the winter, the trail often ices over and can become extremely treacherous.  The hiukers are believed to be on the ridge above Shining Creek.

Friday afternoon, Haywood County EMS Supervisor Ben Clausen said that because the cell phone the hikers used to call 911 has such a low battery, communication has been spotty and brief and their location is unknown.

"They have no idea where they are," he said. "They have no compass, maps, GPS, nothing with them."

Clausen said that although neither of them men have any injuries, the cold weather is starting to get to them. Starting Friday night, a special alpine rescue team joined the search.

"They are mountain search and rescue teams that are actually trained in alpine type search and rescue situations," he said. "They’re specially equipped for cold weather snow search situations."

This story will be updated as rescue efforts progress.