Helicopter rescue saves stranded Smokies hiker
A multifaceted rescue effort extricated a stranded hiker from the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
At approximately 8:20 a.m. that day, the park’s Emergency Communications Center received notification that San Diego, California, resident Andrew Burtzloff, 28, had become disoriented and lost due to heavy snow while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
To rescue Burtzloff, the park developed a search and rescue plan using location data from the cell phone call, which indicated that he was well off-trail in a ravine deep within the park’s backcountry near Gregory Bald. Burtzloff reported that he was cold, wet and had signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Realizing that it could take six to eight hours to reach him on the ground, the park requested assistance from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and the national guard. By 10 a.m., a medical UH60 Army Blackhawk had departed the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, reaching the search location about 15 minutes later.
After a brief search by air, the crew located the hiker in waist-deep snow. Unable to land due to trees and terrain, the air crew lowered two medics to the hiker, and after an initial on-ground medical evaluation, Burtzhoff and the medics were hoisted safely aboard. Burtzhoff arrived at the University of Tennessee Medical Center for treatment at about 11:20 a.m.
“The park has a long-standing partnership with these agencies that enables us to work together to complete complex search and rescue operations in extremely hazardous environments such as this,” said Tennessee District Ranger Jared St. Clair. “We are appreciative of their dedication in helping us reach those in need.”
The park received 12-18 inches of snow at its highest elevations between Friday, Jan. 14, and Monday, Jan. 17, and most park roads were closed. However, many park trails remained accessible along the boundary, though backpackers were cautioned about the inclement weather.
For information about hiking safety, visit nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hikingsafety.htm.
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We also met Andrew while having lunch at Fontana Village. Yes, he was quite personable, outgoing, and friendly. We learned a lot about him in the brief conversation as we were leaving. I had questioned his decision to be hiking the AT in the winter and asked if he was meeting up with other hikers. He seemed like an inexperienced backpacker telling us that he hadn’t eaten for the last two days and when asked about his boots, he didn’t know what brand he was wearing. When we left him we thought he was heading for trouble. We weren’t particularly surprised to see that he had to be rescued.
We met Andrew this weekend at Fontana Village. So sad to hear this news. He was a very personable, friendly person.