In early November, I posted an article about an Appalachian Trail southbound thru-hiker that was rescued in the Smokies after riding out Hurricane Sandy. Steven Ainsworth battled record snowfall and survived for three days before calling 911 for help. Here’s footage and some commentary from the HuffPost on the helicopter rescue:
Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Brad Lund and his crew of three had taken to the air after park rangers on foot failed to reach Ainsworth.
“We have had numerous rescues on the Appalachian Trail, but these weather conditions were the most extreme in my 13-year history,” Lund told HuffPost.
Lund, formerly in the Navy, described how conditions worsened between their departure from the airport in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and arrival at the mountain. As their altitude rose about 4,500 feet, the temperature dropped from about 67 degrees to 28 degrees, and visibility was obscured by snow blowing off the mountain peaks, he said.
But the most challenging part of the rescue mission was the turbulence, which made it difficult to keep the helicopter stable by pointing the nose into the wind, Lund said. “We had to fly backwards and sideways, up and down.”
Finally, the rescuers reached Ainsworth’s tent. Trooper Jeff Buchanan was lowered down from the helicopter. Once on the ground, he had to grab hold of a tree and crawl on his stomach to make it to the stranded hiker.
“When I went off the aircraft, I fell into the drift myself, and I was fighting with everything to pull myself out,” Buchanan said.
Eventually Ainsworth was attached to a harness and lifted to the helicopter above.
“I was in a slow spin on the way up and got a panoramic view of the snowy rugged mountains I had been in. That will be a lasting image for me,” he said.
The hiker attributes his survival to his own physical, mental and spiritual stamina, along with the skills of his rescue team.
“This was a perfect storm scenario, as it turns out, but I had my own perfect survival opportunity with my own strengths and the experience and flawless execution of many,” Ainsworth said.