Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers and members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol Special Operations and Aviation Section rescued two individuals from the park’s backcountry near the Spence Field Shelter on Saturday, April 4. At 6:10am, Park dispatch received a call from an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker advising of a pair of hikers in distress near Spence Field Shelter.
The hikers, a father and son, got separated from a third member of their party while trying to make their way from Derrick Knob Shelter to Spence Field Shelter on Friday night, a distance of 6.3 miles. After leaving Derrick Knob the weather deteriorated and the hikers were left traversing over rocky terrain in the dark, driving rain and thunderstorms. Only one member of the party made it to Spence Field Shelter as planned.
In the morning, thru-hikers, headed Northbound from Spence Field, were on the lookout for the two hikers that had not made it the night before, and quickly came upon the first individual, who had a knee injury and could not walk unassisted. Not long after the call came in to dispatch of the initial party, other hikers found the father farther north near Thunderhead Mountain.
Two rangers responded on horseback from Cades Cove with a wrangler from the Cades Cove Riding Stables. The hiker with the knee injury was taken out on horseback, while rangers continued on foot to assess the condition of the father who was several miles down the AT. After an assessment by park rangers, it was determined that air extrication would be the best option for rescue.
Tennessee Highway Patrol was able to assist. The individual was extricated via helicopter at 7:32 p.m. and flown to McGhee Tyson Airport where he was transported by Rural Metro to UT Hospital.