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Updated: Rescued Pennsylvania students heading home

By: Matthew Rand Email
By: Matthew Rand Email

Update Mar. 9, 2013:
WHITESBURG, Ky.(WYMT)- Dozens of college students rescued from an eastern Kentucky mountain are on their way home tonight.

The group from La Salle University in Pennsylvania was in Letcher County this week for Spring break, to do work for Habitat for Humanity.

The students became lost Thursday while hiking on Pine Mountain. A few students were treated for minor injuries. The group was bused back to Philadelphia today; they are expected to arrive later tonight.

Original Story:

PINE MOUNTAIN, Ky. (WYMT) - They came to Eastern Kentucky on their spring break to help those less fortunate, but dozens of college students from Pennsylvania, ended up in a scary situation when they got lost on a hike.

Emergency crews say 40 students from La Salle University had to be rescued from the "High Rock" area on Pine Mountain Thursday night. They say the hikers were on their way to Bad Branch Falls, a popular tourist spot.

The trail to Bad Branch Falls is easy enough to see by day, but the hikers were traveling at night, and rescuers say they didn't have any flashlights.

"They were not prepared to be out at night," said Letcher County emergency management director Paul Miles. "They really wasn't prepared for the hike they was going to to do because the clothing the footwear they had on."

State police were able to find the group's general location by pinging the hikers' cell phone signals. The rescue team found the group shortly after midnight and began transporting the hikers to Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Healthcare, where they were given warm food and blankets.

"By far the most emotional part was when the phone calls went out to the parents, things like 'Mom I'm ok but ...' No parent ever wants to get the phone call that their child is in the emergency room," said Whitesburg ARH Community CEO Dena Sparkman.

County officials say everyone involved with the rescue went above and beyond the call of duty.

"That's one good thing about Letcher County," said Judge-Executive Jim Ward. "If we've got a problem, then people pitch in to help."

Five people were treated for exposure to the cold, but officials say there were no serious injuries.

The students were staying in Harlan County and working on a Habitat for Humanity project. At last check, one hiker was still at the hospital for observation. Plans are being made to get the students home.

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