A hiker stranded by a snowstorm in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was airlifted to safety Friday afternoon, park officials said.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter plucked Steven Ainsworth, 56, of Washington, N.C., from his remote position on the Appalachian Trail. He was taken by ambulance to LeConte Medical Center in Sevierville, Tenn., for evaluation.
Park rangers had battled deep snow drifts, high winds and steep terrain in the search for Ainsworth, who called for help Thursday afternoon. He was on a part of the Appalachian Trail where elevations are 5,000 to 6,000 feet, officials said.
The search area is “one of the most remote regions of the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine,” said park spokeswoman Molly Schroer.
Two rangers set off on foot Thursday to find him. After a nine-hour hike through four- to five-foot snow drifts, they were forced to stop for rest at a cabin on the trail, about four miles from the hiker.
Early Friday, Ainsworth again called Cherokee police, saying he was in distress. He said he had made it through the night by “hunkering down” but might not be able to walk out.
Temperatures were below freezing in the park Thursday night. The park’s 6,593-foot Mount LeConte got 32 inches of snow this week, a record for October.