Although this story was widely covered in the local press, the following account from the NPS Morning Report provides several more details on the incident in which three hikers had to be rescued after suffering from various stages of hypothermia, while attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies:
On the evening of January 2nd, park dispatch began receiving reports of a three person hiking party in distress somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. The cell phone signal indicated that the group was between Mollies Shelter and Fontana Lake, approximately five to six miles from the nearest trailhead.
Cell phone contact was established with the three men from South Carolina, who ranged in age from 21 to 32 years old. The three men indicated that they were ill prepared for the weather conditions, that they had no shelter, and that they were cold, wet, suffering from hypothermia and unable to move. Through a series of broken phone calls, they stated that one member of the group was shivering and had gone to sleep and could not be awakened and they were burning their clothes in an attempt to provide warmth.
Rangers Brad Griest, Kent Looney, and ranger/medic Phil Basak hiked throughout the night to locate the group. During the hike, the rangers experienced wind chill temperatures between -10 and -15 degrees. Due to the high winds and blowing snow, it was difficult at times for the rangers to locate the trail.
Early the following morning, rangers found the three men, all of them suffering from various stages of hypothermia and possible frostbite. While the rangers provided medical aid and attempted to re-warm them, a Blackhawk helicopter from the North Carolina National Guard with hoisting capabilities responded.
By early afternoon, all three men had been safely hoisted aboard and flown to Mission (Memorial) Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, for treatment. The rangers hiked back out with assistance from a second rescue team utilizing UTVs on portions of the trail.
The three hikers had planned to hike across the Appalachian Trail on a ten-day backpacking trip. Intending to stay in shelters, they didn't bring a tent. They also didn’t bring proper clothing that was warm enough for the extreme cold temperatures they would encounter.
Hiking in the Smokies