The Memorial Day Weekend was extremely busy for rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains. NPS Digest is reporting that rangers responded to a variety of incidents over the three day weekend, including eleven motor vehicle accidents (six involving motorcycles and three requiring helicopter transports), five significant EMS calls (including a cardiac arrest and a snake bite), two searches for missing hikers, and four rescue operations. Highlights included:
Saturday – Dispatch received a report of a 60-year-old man suffering from a pre-existing heart condition. He was located at the Tri Corner Knob backcountry shelter on the Appalachian Trail, with the closest trailhead nine miles away. Rangers began an evacuation risk assessment utilizing a helicopter and a carryout team, while, simultaneously, Appalachian Trail ridge runner Caleb Grey and ranger/EMT Tabbatha Cavendish began hiking to the shelter. The Tennessee Highway Patrol responded with two helicopters, one of which was capable of hoist operations. The man was lifted directly from the shelter to the helicopter and flown to a nearby airport, where he was then driven via ambulance to a hospital. He was found to be in atrial fibrillation and ultimately needed electrical cardioversion in order to establish a normal heart rhythm. Ranger Ellen Paxton served as incident commander.
Sunday – Around noon, a volunteer Appalachian Trail ridge runner notified dispatch of an abandoned backpack on the AT about a mile south of Mollies Ridge Shelter. He expressed concern that the pack might belong to a through hiker who had been reported as suffering from a possible stroke or other medical emergency. The ridge runner searched the pack at the direction of supervisory ranger KK Stuart and found several thousand dollars in cash and traveler’s checks, a wallet, and assorted backpacking supplies. He searched the surrounding area and found a 50-year-old man who was walking away from the trail. The hiker was reported to be disoriented and having difficulty walking. Rangers Kent Looney and Samuel Salter responded on horseback to assess the situation. They met the ridge runner and hiker at Mollies Ridge Shelter. They evaluated the hiker and consulted with medical control before determining that he suffered from an underlying medical issue but was not having a medical emergency. The hiker refused further assistance despite the rangers’ strong efforts to convince him to exit the backcountry.
Monday – Supervisory ranger Steve Spanyer received additional information thru a series of conversations with the above hiker’s family which led to the determination that he might be suicidal. Rangers Marc Eckert and Brad Griest were dispatched to the Appalachian Trail to search for the hiker. Eckert and Griest found him asleep at Russell Field Shelter. They watched the man throughout the night and contacted him when he awoke in the morning. Eckert and Griest were able to convince him to exit the backcountry voluntarily. They arrived at Cades Cove around noon on Tuesday. Rangers facilitated phone calls between the hiker and two family members, which resulted in him agreeing to a voluntary psychological evaluation. He was transported to Blount Memorial Hospital. The ER physician and mobile crisis counselors determined that the man was likely a danger to himself and transferred him to Lakeshore Hospital for further evaluation. Spanyer served as incident commander.