BY LAUREN HENRY
A 17-year-old Florida girl was rescued after a fall down an embankment off the Appalachian Trail along the Greene County/ Madison County, N.C. line on Monday.
The girl was on a nine-day hiking trip with other girls from Eckerd, a group home in Florida for boys and girls. It was a group of nine, made up of high-school-age girls and a woman that Kevin "Bucky" Ayers of the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad believed to be the group leader.
The group was traveling south along the Appalachian Trail between Allen Gap and Hot Springs, N.C.
Eleven members of the Rescue Squad responded. Ayers said they received the call about 3 p.m. Monday afternoon indicating that the girl had fallen and was complaining of severe low- and mid-back pain.
North Carolina emergency responders arrived first.
The Madison County Emergency Management, Madison County Emergency Medical Service, Laurel Fire Department, Hot Springs Fire Department and North Carolina Forest Service worked alongside the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad to bring the girl to safety.
Conditions were cold, wet, and slippery. A soft rain and temperatures dipping into the low-40s brought initial symptoms of hypothermia, Ayers said.
The 17 rescue workers from North Carolina and 11 from Tennessee carried the girl the three to three-and-a-half miles out to the Asheville Highway, where she was then transported to the Memorial Mission Asheville Hospital.
The girl was immobilized on a long spine board and carried out in a basket, Ayers said.
Director of Madison County Emergency Management Jeff Willis credits the Greene County attachable wheels for making the extraction of the injured girl easier on rescuers.
The single-track trail is all hill, up on the way in and a steep downhill grade hiking out, with numerous roots, rocks and slick leaves to keep conditions difficult.
"It is a really rocky and steep terrain, and the rain made it a little treacherous. We got everyone out without injury," Willis said.
Willis said he couldn't be more pleased with the rescue mission, which got the girl out in less than two-and-a-half hours after initial contact.
"It was excellent cooperation between all agencies and the two states, and just an excellent rescue operation," Willis said.
He said the counties often work together, but rarely side-by-side the way they did on Monday.
"We are continuously working to improve rescue responses, and we are looking forward to training and working with Greene County in the future," Willis said.
Initial condition reports indicated that the girl was not in critical condition and did not suffer any serious injuries.
Ayers said she was mostly bruised, with the beginning symptoms of hypothermia.
The rest of the group hiked out after the emergency rescue.
The emergency responders treated one other injury on location.
Willis said one other girl injured her ankle but did not require extraction.