NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Highway Patrol Aviation and Special Operations Unit -- including Sgt. Aussie Thaxter of Shelbyville -- rescued a stranded hiker from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday afternoon. The State Troopers departed from Nashville in the agency's Huey helicopter this morning to assist in the search and rescue effort.
Steven Ainsworth, 65, of Washington, N.C., was discovered by the THP special operations crew at approximately 2:54 p.m. EDT. Ainsworth was transported to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport in Sevierville, where he was met by emergency personnel on the ground. He was then taken to LeConte Medical Center for medical evaluation and treatment.
The National Park Service requested the assistance of the THP after receiving information from the Cherokee, N.C. 911 emergency center that a hiker called and indicated he was trapped on the Appalachian Trail .Apparently, he had encountered waist deep snow and had been stranded for several days.
Park Rangers had attempted to locate the hiker, however, chest deep snow and the hiker's location enabled them from proceeding with the search. Prior to the Huey's arrival, the THP's East Tennessee pilot had also made an effort to find the hiker. However, the cloud cover caused poor visibility.
The THP Huey, piloted by Sgt. Brad Lund, with a crew made up of Thaxter, Trooper Steve Manning and Trooper Jeff Buchanan, arrived at Gatlinburg airport in the early afternoon for a briefing with park rangers. They then launched to the shelter site where the hiker had stayed for one to two nights and tracked his footprints in the snow for approximately a mile and a half before spotting his camp.
The crew used the rescue hoist to lower Trooper Buchanan to the ground, where the snow was chest high after stepping out. He then dressed the hiker in a screamer suit, placed him in the hoist and the troopers lifted him to the helicopter. Buchanan remained on the ground and collected the hiker's gear and supplies, before being raised to safety.
The total rescue time took approximately 45 minutes, including a 17-mile flight to the top of the mountain where the hiker was located.