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Lost hikers located and rescue effort underway

UPDATE: The two men have been airlifted to safety after specially trained rough-terrain rescuers using thermal imaging and night-vision goggles found themhours before cold weather might have taken both their lives. Story here.

Two lost hikers survived the night in the Shining Rock Wilderness area of Haywood County.

The two men managed to charge a phone enough to call 911 around 7:30-8:00 Saturday morning, according to dispatchers. It was a short conversation before their phone cut out, but they were able to tell dispatchers that they have started a fire.

"That makes this a more survivable situation," said Greg Shuping, Emergency Management Director of Haywood County. "But it's still very dangerous. We are using specialized mountain rescue teams, with special gear for their own safety and survivability, as well as skill set you don't find with just anybody."

Rescue teams are looking from mountaintops, trying to "narrow down maybe even the slightest, faintest puff of smoke to help direct them into the right area."

The phone the hikers are using is not a "normal phone one would own or carry on a daily basis," said Shuping. "If you went missing with a regular cell phone, we'd normally be able to find you quickly because it would transmit your coordinates."

For some reason, this phone or type of phone is not doing that, according to Shuping.

The men are lost in a remote area of Shining Rock. Shuping called it "some of the most remote, dangerous terrain they've ever had to deal with under these winter conditions." Crews are searching, but responder safety is a consideration due to the location.

Multiple crews have searched for the hikers continuously since Friday morning, including 3 who worked overnight during the snowstorm.

Shuping said 3 teams of 4-6 people each are searching for the hikers. The teams are larger because of the weather conditions.

Haywood County Search and Rescue and a crew from Hendersonville were among those involved in the search.

A fresh set of crews just set out for the wilderness area about mid-morning on Saturday.

Shuping said they are working on getting a helicopter up in the air as soon as the weather allows, but they want "a specialized helicopter, and the right one, at the right time."

He and Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher are trying to get "local, regional, state and federal resources to help save these guys lives."

The area they're searching, however, is extremely large and remote. Other than where the hikers car is located, there is little they have to go on.

"It's really from highway 276 in Cruso to highway 215 coming up through Lake Logan," said Shuping. Just to get to the middle of the area is "miles and miles back into the wilderness."

The two men went for a day hike Thursday around noon in the general vicinity of the Big East Fork Trail, according to a news release from Haywood County officials. They called authorities Friday morning to report they were lost and off the trail.


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