Covering Kentucky

Mar 8, 2013 10:41 PM

37 Student Hikers Rescued In Letcher Co.

Thirty-seven students from a Pennsylvania college were rescued this morning after they were lost for more than eight hours overnight, in Jefferson National Forest, in Letcher County.

Chief Tony Fugate, with Mayking Volunteer Fire Department, tells LEX 18, the students left to hike a trail to the popular lookout spot, Branch Falls, around 3:30 Thursday afternoon. They soon got turned around.

"You might walk by the same place, just keep walking by it and you'd never know it," Fugate says, explaining how difficult the woods can be to navigate once night falls.

The 37 college students are from La Salle University in Philadelphia. They are here on spring break, building Habitat for Humanity houses.

Around seven o'clock, hours after starting the hike, one of them used a cell phone to call 911. It's estimated the students were a couple miles deep into the woods.

Fugate was part of the search team sent to find them:

"It was cold, slick, rough terrain. You take your time and go so you don't get no one hurt."

After seven hours of looking, rescuers found a note written in the snow. It said, "Keep Going." Fugate says they knew they were close.

"The snow made it easier to track the direction they were going. So we just got on the trail and started following it."

Around 3:30 Friday morning, more than eight hours after the first 911 call, the students were found.

"They was scared, but they was happy to see us. They was cold and wet, really tired, exhausted, some of them said they hadn't felt their feet in hours," Fugate says.

But they still had a two mile trek out of the forest. Busses met the students and took them to a nearby hospital to get checked out. A few showed signs of mild hypothermia, but everyone is okay.

"Forty people lost is.... well usually it's 2, 3, 5. First time for a 40," Fugate tells LEX 18.

As of Friday night, a spokesperson from the university says one student is still at the hospital as a precaution due to a pre-existing condition. All the students are set to return to Pennsylvania Saturday.

*Picture courtesy of The News-Press, Letcher County, KY

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