Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

March 8, 2013

40 hikers rescued; were lost on Ky. mountain

LOUISVILLE — More than three-dozen Pennsylvania college students visiting Kentucky for a mission trip got lost after their hike unexpectedly stretched into the night, prompting an hourslong effort to rescue them from rough terrain and freezing temperatures, officials said Friday.

The group apparently got disoriented when it got dark while they were hiking near Bad Branch Falls, a state nature preserve near Whitesburg, officials said.

A search and rescue effort for the group began about 7 p.m. EST Thursday, and it took until 3:30 a.m. Friday to get the entire group off the mountain, said Mayking Volunteer Fire Chief Tony Fugate, who helped the rescue effort.

“It’s pretty rough country back in there,” Fugate told The Associated Press.

Fugate said most of the students were just tired and cold, but one had a hurt knee and a couple showed symptoms of mild hypothermia.

The group of 37 students and three staff members from La Salle University in Phildadelphia were in the area on spring break building houses for Habitat for Humanity, said John Caroulis, spokesman for the school.

Caroulis said the students were on an annual trip, and at least four of them had been hiking in the area on past trips.

He said one student remained in the hospital Friday as a precaution due to a pre-existing condition, but the rest of the group was released. All are expected to return as scheduled Saturday.  

Fugate said the group apparently waited too long to return from hiking near the Bad Branch Falls waterfall. The area where the students got lost is a marked trail that loops around, but they got disoriented and called 911 on a cell phone for help.

He said only a few of the students had flashlights.

“We knew they were on the loop, but not where on the loop,” Fugate said. “We tracked them down.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Ray said temperatures in the Pine Mountain area dipped into the low 20s overnight. He said the high Thursday reached only into the mid-20s.

He said some areas received a trace of drizzle and snow overnight. There’s still about 2 inches of snow on the ground from winter weather that moved through the area earlier in the week.

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