Massachusetts State Police, firefighters, DCR Ranger, rescue hikers in hours long operation during snowstorm
In an hours-long rescue operation overnight, a joint search team located two hikers stranded by heavy snow in Mount Washington State Forest in the far southwest corner of Massachusetts. The six-person search team eventually was able to escort the hikers, two males aged 47 and 53, out of the forest shortly before dawn.
According to Dave Procopio of Massachusetts State Police, the rescue operation began at 7:48 p.m. Tuesday, when the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Dispatch Center forwarded a 911 call from one of the hikers to the State Police-Lee Barracks. The hiker told Troopers he and his friend had gone for a hike on the Alander Trail in the state forest, located in the southern Berkshires town of Mount Washington near the New York and Connecticut state lines. The caller said because of the bad weather and gathering darkness he and his friend could no longer see the trail markings, could not continue to a cabin they were headed to at the mountain peak, and could not retrace their steps back out of the forest because heavy falling snow had filled in their tracks. They estimated that they were approximately two miles into the forest.
Troopers and emergency dispatchers told the hikers to stay where they were while they began assembling a search and rescue team equipped with snowmobiles. While dispatchers and state Department of Conservation and Recreation personnel worked to obtain and plot the exact coordinates of the hikers’ location, Troopers from various Massachusetts State Police units, Egremont and Sheffield Firefighters, state Environmental Police, and DCR Rangers responded to a command post at the Egremont Fire Department on Route 23.
Meanwhile, in order to get snowmobiles to the search team that would deploy from the command post to the state forest, first responders had to clear roads between the command post and the entrance to the forest trail. Those roads were blocked by trees and power lines knocked down by the storm. Shortly before 9:00 p.m., an MSP Troop B patrol supervisor, Egremont DPW personnel, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency began notifying public works crews, snowplows, and the utility company to respond to assist in that part of the mission. By 11:15 p.m., National Grid employees had shut power to downed lines so the road to the trail entrances could be cleared.
A short time later, the six-person search and rescue team on snowmobiles — consisting of two Troopers from the State Police Special Emergency Response Team, three Sheffield Firefighters, and a DCR Ranger – departed from the command post for the trail entrance at the edge of the forest. Because of two-foot-deep snow, however, the snowmobiles were unable to drive onto the trail. At 12:09 a.m., the members of the rescue team dismounted and began the two-mile walk into the forest to the hikers’ coordinates.
After hiking for more than 2 ½ hours, at approximately 2:30 AM the search team found the hikers. The two men were suffering from fatigue and cold temperatures but were not injured. The group of eight then began the hike back out of the forest.
More than two hours later, at 4:48 a.m. today, the search team and the hikers came out of the forest and reached the DCR headquarters building near the trail entrance. Southern Berkshire Ambulance EMTs responded to examine the hikers and transported them to an area hospital for evaluation due to their fatigue and cold weather exposure.
In addition to the MSP SERT members and patrol supervisor, Troopers from the Lee Barracks and an MSP K9 team also assisted in the response. All units were cleared from the command post by 6:20 a.m.