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Rescue crews work together to recover body of man who fell at Red Fork Falls

By Ty Butler

A Virginia man died Sunday, Sept. 4, after he fell off Red Fork Falls near the Limestone Cove community of Unicoi County.

“The Virginia victim was hiking with some friends and wanted to get a closer look at the falls,” Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley wrote on a Sunday night Facebook post. “They told him not to, but he slipped and fell.”

The victim, along with four other individuals, were hiking along the Red Fork Falls trail when the incident occurred. UCSR Public Information Officer Andrew Harris said the area in which the man fell from was “extremely mossy,” which likely caused the individual to slip.

The victim, 44-year-old William “Bill” Piland, was identified Tuesday, Sept. 6, by UCSD Investigator Gabe Williams on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Harris added that nine separate crews worked together to retrieve the man’s body, following Chief Investigator Gabe Williams’ initial arrival on the scene.

According to Hensley’s post, Unicoi County Emergency Medical Services, Search and Rescue, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers were all dispatched following the 911 call at around 2:30 p.m.

“This was truly a team effort, as mentioned with the nine agencies involved that responded to the call,” Harris said.

“Knowing the severity of the situation, upon arrival, Search and Rescue members quickly made contact with the hikers in the subject’s party to confirm the status of the victim was sadly fatal,” Harris added.

Harris said that the trail’s landscape posed challenges for rescue crews, which used a roping harness to recover the man’s body.

“We then immediately started the recovery process which was extremely technical,” Harris explained. “This trail system is not maintained or recognized by the Forest Service.”

Getting from the top of the falls to the bottom involves navigating some very steep and rocky terrains, according to Harris.

“Multiple rope systems were constructed and rescue techs were harnessed for the descending and ascending climbs,” Harris noted.

On Sunday, Harris said local agencies are working to contact the individual’s family before disclosing additional details, including his name.

The incident is under investigation, and the body was sent for further examination. Harris noted that no foul play was suspected.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the victim’s friends and families,” Hensley wrote on his Facebook post.