Hurricane Irma evacuees rescued after being lost during Unicoi County hike

UNICOI COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – The lush green mountains of northeast Tennessee can be enough to take your breath away. Being someone from out of town, you wouldn’t blame them for wanting to take in the view with a hike.

But for a group of children on Tuesday evening, that hike quickly turned into a search and rescue at Rock Creek Falls in Unicoi County.

The children ages ranged from eight to 14.

“Eventually they got up in there and got turned around, got lost,” said Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley. “So luckily they had cell service and they called dispatch.”

The dispatcher that answered the call was Jackie Butler.

She stayed on the phone with them nearly three hours until their phones died.

“Just be calm that we would come and get them, to huddle up, comfort each other, tell each other stories, that we would be there to get them,” Butler said.

The children were evacuees from Florida who came to Tennessee because of Hurricane Irma.

After searching for about three hours, they called in a Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter.

But it was now dark and cold.

“The wind gust up there was probably 50 miles per hour. It was just unreal,” Hensley said.

There were other dangers too.

“One thing I was really worried about with this search is the snakes. There are copperheads and rattlesnakes,” he said.

But finally, he said “the children heard the helicopter and they started screaming at the helicopter so the search team heard them. So they were able to get to them and bring them to safety”.

Sheriff Hensley said the kids were finally found around 11:15 p.m., luckily uninjured. When they were found there was one thing that they wanted.

“Officers went to McDonald’s and bought them some chicken McNuggets and it was just a real good outcome. They done an extraordinary job.”

Sheriff Hensley credits extensive training for being able to make the rescue happen.

He said their rescue was thanks to a joint effort by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, MedicOne, Erwin Police and the Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue Team.

He said the family is now back home in Florida and doing well.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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