NPS Digest is reporting this morning that rangers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park had to respond to a string of serious incidents over a three-day period last week. Included in the report are more details on the man who was injured as a result of the tornado while hiking on the Low Gap Trail. Other incidents and rescues took place in the park as a result of that storm:
• Thursday June 13th – Rangers discovered that a 63-year-old woman was stranded on the west side of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River late in the afternoon. As rescuers assembled, a very strong storm system passed through the park. The woman and rescuers were forced to shelter in place until the storm passed. Rescue swimmers crossed the river, evaluated the woman, and effected a swiftwater rescue. Rangers were assisted by Gatlinburg Fire Department and a park fire management employee.
• Thursday June 13th – At about the same time as the above rescue was in progress, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Cosby, Tennessee. Ranger Chuck Hester responded to the Cosby campground, alerted campers of the coming storm, and evacuated 25 to 30 campers to the basement of the maintenance building located in the campground. The storm was later confirmed by the NWS as an EF-1 tornado. Once it passed, they emerged from the basement to find hundreds of trees down in the campground. Many of the occupied sites had extensive damage and at least one tent was destroyed by falling trees. Due to Hester’s quick action, there were no significant injuries reported in the campground.
• Thursday June 13th – About an hour after the above, rangers and Swain County Rescue units responded to a report of two juveniles who had overturned their tubes in the fast-moving waters of Deep Creek. District Ranger Joe Pond and Supervisory Ranger Mike Scheid responded. The younger boy was able to escape to the shoreline prior to their arrival, while the older boy continued downstream until he was able to escape to the far side of the creek. A ground team hiked through thick brush for two hours to reach the boy and bring him to safety.
• Friday, June 14th – Ranger Kris Laurie was evaluating the Cosby area trails and backcountry campsites for damage caused by the storm the previous day, when she came upon a 53-year-old man on the Low Gap Trail suffering from a compound leg fracture, spinal injury, and broken ribs. The man had been injured by a falling tree on the previous afternoon. A ground rescue team was mobilized with a saw team to clear a path for a litter. At the same time, an Army Air National Guard helicopter was requested through Haywood County and North Carolina EMA. Two park medics were able to hike past the downed trees and began providing advanced medical care while waiting for the rescue teams. An Army Blackhawk arrived on scene and lowered two rescue medics and a litter. The injured hiker was packaged and raised to the helicopter and flown to Mission Hospital in Ashville.
• Friday, June 14th – Ranger Todd Roessner made a traffic stop around 1 p.m. for possession of a controlled substance. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a large quantity of marijuana and several hundred pills. During the search, the operators attempted to conceal a small handgun under the car. Roessner observed this and immediately took the man to the ground and into custody. He was arrested and a variety of charges are pending. Special Agent Jeff Carlisle provided investigative assistance.
• Friday, June 14th – Cades Cove rangers received a report of a man lying unresponsive on the riverbank at the Townsend Wye, a popular swimming area. The 63-year-old man was found face down in the Little River and was pulled to shore by a passing kayaker. When rangers arrived, he was being attended to by Rural Metro ambulance personnel and was breathing spontaneously. The man was transported by ambulance to a waiting Lifestar helicopter and then flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. He is expected to make a full recovery.
• Friday, June 14th – Park dispatch was notified of a single motorcycle collision with injuries near Newfound Gap around 4:30 p.m. Rangers Les Kwiatkowski and Jason Marsh responded. Gatlinburg EMS transported the operator to Leconte Medical Center.
• Friday, June 14th – Dispatch was notified of a vehicle-motorcycle collision with injuries on Newfound Gap Road in the loop around 6:30 p.m. Rangers Les Kwiatkowski and Jason Marsh responded. Gatlinburg EMS transported one of the victims to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, where Lifestar airlifted the patient to the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
• Saturday June 15th – Dispatch was notified of a possible car clout in progress at the Laurel Falls parking area just after 3 p.m. A handgun was among the items that were reported as stolen. Ranger Dean Rinehart spotted the suspect vehicle at the Sugarlands Visitor Center a short time later. It soon left the area and headed west on Little River Road. Supervisory Park Ranger Bobby made a high risk stop, during which the driver initially refused to show his hands or follow commands. He was taken into custody with felony charges pending. Several stolen items were retrieved from the vehicle including the stolen handgun. Special Agent Jeff Carlisle provided investigative assistance.
Hiking in the Smokies