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Helicopter sent to rescue hiker stranded on Appalachian Trail

November 02, 2012|By Joseph Serna
  • The Appalachian Trail crosses Interstate 93 on the flank of Cannon Mountain in the lower left of this picture, and traverses over the summits of Mount Liberty on the right.
The Appalachian Trail crosses Interstate 93 on the flank of Cannon Mountain… (Mike Kodas/Hartford Courant…)

Park rangers in Tennessee are sending a helicopter to try to rescue a hiker stranded on the Appalachian Trail, officials said Friday.

The hiker, identified as Steven Ainsworth, from Washington, N.C., has a cellphone, a tent, sleeping bag, one day’s worth of food and 1 1/2 liters of water, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials said.

Ainsworth, 56, is about half a mile down a  slope on Mount Chapman, one of the highest peaks on the trial and near the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Park rangers said Ainsworth set out on his hike Monday and called 911 on Thursday when he realized he could not make it out on his own, stymied by footwear problems and four- to five-foot snow drifts.

Two park rangers set out on foot late Thursday to rescue him and marched through the mountains for nine hours before reaching a cabin about four miles south of where Ainsworth was believed to be, said Melissa Cobern, a park spokeswoman.

Ainsworth spoke with park rangers Friday morning, who were able to narrow down his location. The rangers are expected to reach him sometime Friday. The area is one of the most remote along the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine.

The biggest hurdle facing Ainsworth’s rescue is the wind, Cobern said.

Rescuers will have to decide if they can airlift him out amid the high winds and steep terrain, if they should drop supplies for him and the two rangers there to rescue him, or if neither option is possible.

Since Hurricane Sandy swept over the Eastern U.S. on Monday, the northern portion of Tennessee’s mountain range has seen about 32 inches of snow, a record for October.

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