Forty hikers were rescued from a Kentucky mountain yesterday after becoming disoriented and losing their way after dark.
Three staff members and 37 students from La Salle University in Philadelphia used a cell phone to alert emergency services after becoming lost on a Pine Mountain trail in Letcher County around 7:00 pm on Thursday.
Kentucky State trooper Tony Watts confirmed that the 40 hikers were found by police and rescue workers roughly four hours after their initial distress call.
According to officials, the group gathered together near a campfire to combat the frigid temperatures and remained in cell phone contact with officials until they were located.
The 40 hikers were rescued from an area known as High Rock, located near Bad Branch Falls on Pine Mountain.
Once located by search teams, the group had to descend the mountain on foot, causing the rescue effort to reach into the early hours of Friday.
All parties were reportedly taken to Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital where they received treatment for possible hypothermia, dehydration and exhaustion.
Staff at the hospital also provided the 40 weary hikers with dry hospital scrubs, pajama pants, and chicken noodle soup, according to Dena Sparkman, Community CEO for Whitesburg Appalachian Regional.
“The other thing was loaning them cellphones so that they could call their parents,” Sparkman explained to The Lexington Herald-Leader. “That was an emotional time.”
The 40 hikers survived the ordeal without suffering any major injuries, although one student remains hospitalized as a precaution regarding a pre-existing medical condition.
According to Jon Caroulis, a spokesperson for La Salle University, the 40 hikers were visiting Kentucky to build houses with Habitat for Humanity.
The trip is part of an annual tradition for students seeking a spring break alternative and at least four of the rescued hikers had visited trails on Pine Mountain on previous occasions.
According to Mayking Volunteer Fire Chief Tony Fugate, who helped the rescue effort, the students were on a marked looping trail close to the Bad Branch Falls waterfall. With only a few flashlights among them, the hikers became disoriented in their direction once nightfall settled in.
“It’s pretty rough country back in there,” Fugate told The Associated Press. “We knew they were on the loop, but not where on the loop. We tracked them down.”
The 40 hikers rescued from Kentucky’s Pine Mountain are scheduled to return home to Philadelphia on Sunday.