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Dramatic Rescues Amid The Blizzard

March 15, 1993

Undated (AP) _ Dozens of hikers stranded in the Great Smoky Mountains were rescued Sunday by helicopter as the blizzard’s aftermath brought drama and heroism throughout the stricken area.

Seventy people were rescued from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent Cherokee National Forest, said Army National Guard Col. Larry Shelton in Tennessee.

″We are plucking people from all over the mountains,″ Shelton said.

There were no serious injuries among those rescued. Shelton said most had found refuge in shelters or tents.

Helicopters also were used Sunday afternoon to evacuate about 60 people from resort chalets above Gatlinburg, Tenn., at the entrance to the park.

Mark Custer, one of those rescued, said he had hiked through waist-deep snow to the nearest home and ″liberated″ some firewood ″at great expense to my mental health and my back.″

Custer, 35, of Birmingham, Ala., said a man he knew only as Earl had cleared a landing pad for the chopper and stayed until everyone had been flown to safety.

″I went to shake his hand when we left ... and his hand was so cold it wouldn’t work,″ Custer said. ″He was a great guy.″

In North Carolina’s section of the park, meanwhile, dozens of suburban Detroit teen-agers were still missing Sunday evening.

Ray Carson, a spokesman for Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said park rangers had rescued about half of the 122-person school group and had maps showing the planned routes of the others.

″We have some of the crews with us. We have reports that some of the crews are walking out,″ said Jan Reelitz, the group’s base camp coordinator. ″The park service is completely in control of the situation. We are completely confident that everyone is fine.″

Reelitz said there were no reported injuries. The students and their chaperones were equipped with tents, camping gear, food and fuel.

″We’d like to go in, but we’re still impassable here,″ said Frank Findley, assistant ranger for the Cheoah District of the Nantahala National Forest. ″They’re just barely able to move. We just hope they (the hikers) stay put until we can get to them.″

Shenandoah National Park rangers in Virginia were searching for six students, ages 12-15, and two teachers, all from Connecticut, who had not been seen since Thursday.

Park spokesman Sandy Rives said a helicopter spotted the group’s van Sunday parked at a Skyline Drive overlook but found no trace of the campers. He said 6- to 7-foot snowdrifts had prevented rangers from reaching the van.

Elsewhere, about 400 motorists sought shelter in two tunnels along Interstate 77 near the Virginia-West Virginia line. All had been taken to shelters by Sunday night, authorities said.

Chuck Armstrong, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman, said crews used a front-end loader to push through to three tour buses stalled near an I-77 tunnel Sunday morning, carrying fuel to keep the vehicles warm.

Front-end loaders also were used to rescue eight people stranded for 24 hours in a mountaintop cabin in Woodrow, W.Va., by 15-foot drifts.

In South Carolina, about 100 teen-agers and camp counselors trapped at a camp were ferried to safety by National Guard helicopters on Sunday. Downed power lines, trees and snowdrifts had blocked roads to the camp.

″The kids were really good,″ said camp counselor Chris Crane. ″I heard one of the kids say it was worth going to Camp Greenville just to get to ride back on the helicopter.″

Coast Guard helicopters and a fishing boat saved three crew members of a Honduran freighter off the Florida coast Saturday night, but three others were found dead and four remained missing.

Update hourly