By Richard Rourk
An evening stroll turned into a nightmare for a pair of hikers Thursday, March 11.
According to Unicoi County Search and Rescue Technician Caitlyn Edwards, two experienced hikers got lost near Red Fork Falls. “We received a call at approximately 7:20 p.m. regarding two lost hikers near Red Fork Falls,” Edwards said.
“The hikers had cell phone service and they were able to get into contact with our 911 dispatchers. The battery life on the phone was dwindling, so after the initial call, the callers were advised to hang up and call back once personnel was there. Contact was made back with the hikers and a hasty team of five search and rescue members were sent in in search of the hikers.
With a combination of whistles, and both verbal / light (flashlight) communication our hasty team was able to locate the hikers who had made a wrong turn on the trail as daylight diminished. The hikers were safely located then were assisted out of the woods and back to their vehicle. We would like to extend a special thank you to Wings Air Rescue for flying for us and assisting in our search last night.”
Edwards explained that even the most experienced hikers can easily get lost in our region. “The hikers from March 11 were experienced in hiking for the trail they had chosen, but they were not familiar with the area,” Edwards said. “As darkness approached, they took a wrong turn, and were unable to get back to the trail head. It is easier than most people think to make a wrong turn on an unfamiliar trail. Typically, by the time the hiker realizes that they have made a wrong turn it is too late in the evening or too confusing to get back to where they started. Even trials that are marked can get confusing at times for hikers of all experience levels.”
Unicoi County Search and Rescue have been busy so far this year. “So far in 2021 we have responded to three calls, and in 2020 we responded to 20 calls,” Edwards said. “To elaborate further; 20 calls in one year may not sound like a large number but remember that many of these calls end up lasting multiple days or have multiple subjects involved. Being an all-encompassing rescue team all of our calls vary in severity and difficulty. In some cases when we are dispatched, we are able to communicate with the lost subject via phone and guide them back on the trail through environment descriptions and dialog; however, we do answer all calls for tougher backcountry recovery efforts as well where we may be searching with fewer clues or limited communications.”
According to Edwards, hikers should have a plan before hitting the trails.
“Planning is key during a hike,” Edwards said. “Make sure to give yourself enough time to enjoy your hike, but also allow time for possible unforeseen circumstances. In a picture-perfect world nothing bad is going to happen, but accidents, wrong turns and mishaps are always a possibility. It is easier to navigate your way through a trail or woods in the daylight, but always pack an ample backup light source. Make sure you take enough water to last longer than anticipated. Lastly, you find yourself in need of the Search and Rescue team – stay calm and stay in place.”
Unicoi County Search and Rescue volunteers often have to spend money from their own pockets for their equipment. “Our equipment is an essential part of our organization and the value that our team provides would be far less without proper equipment,” Edwards said. “Each call has a different dynamic and combined with the terrain and seasonal changes we face in East Tennessee we rely heavily on the equipment we have in order to execute our searches quickly and effectively. We stay prepared for any situation or call that we may receive through essential maintenance and training. UCSAR trains with our equipment regularly to make sure all members are aware of their functions and able to operate the equipment properly. By having our equipment well maintained, our team trained and ready for dispatch we are a greater asset to our community.”
Anyone can donate to Unicoi County Search and Rescue through the group’s Facebook page or website, by clicking the donate button. Donations can also be made through PayPal. The mailing address is P.O. Box 153, Erwin, TN 37650. Since UCSAR is a 100 percent non-profit organization, donors can ensure that their donations will be spent on fulfilling a specific need within Unicoi County.
Follow UCSAR on their Facebook page Unicoi County Search and Rescue. They also have a website www.unicoisar.org where updates are posted.
Look for more details as they become available on Erwinrecord.net.