CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A teen who was reported missing after being separated from his friends while hiking has been found safe.
18-year-old Ethan Blackburn of Mountain City said he and a few friends decided to check out “Twisting Falls” in Carter County. The group set out on their hike around 4 p.m. Monday, but come nightfall, Blackburn was not with the rest of the group.
Blackburn said he and his friends split off into two groups. He was with a friend, who said he would be back shortly but did not return. Blackburn was left with his friend’s backpack so he picked it up and started moving, realizing that it was almost dark.
He said he hiked for a little bit and saw his friends from across a tree-clearing on the top of an adjacent mountain, but was unable to reach them. Blackburn knew shortly after that he would be spending his night in the woods.
“After about 30 minutes of following upstream, it started getting dark so I found myself a cave and slept in it for 12 hours while I was soaking wet,” said Ethan Blackburn.
Blackburn said he never really slept, but rather napped at times throughout the night. He said his biggest concern was hypothermia considering temperatures were in the 30’s throughout the night and into the morning hours.
“Soon as I saw daylight break, I was like alright, it’s still too cold for me to move and that was around 7-7:15 because I had my phone then it died around 8 and that’s when I started walking,” said Blackburn.
With ripped jeans and dirtied clothes, Blackburn said he set off again on a mission to find where the entered the trail.
About 20 people joined in the search for Blackburn. Efforts to find the missing teen began at 9 p.m. on Monday night and went into the early hours of the morning. The search was paused for a few hours then resumed at 8 a.m.
Officials with the Carter County Rescue Squad, Carter County Sheriff’s Office, The U.S. Forest Service, the Technical Rescue team and several volunteer fire departments all helped in the search efforts.
Teams used drones, helicopters, utility vehicles, ATV’s and on-foot efforts to help locate Blackburn.
Around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Blackburn was found safe and sound along a service road used by the Forestry service.
Blackburn said he was very thirsty when he was returned to the base camp for the search. He was given water and offered food. About an hour after being found safe, Blackburn was reunited with his family.
Officials tell News Channel 11 that this isn’t the first time they’ve had to rescue someone off this trail and they urge people not to even attempt this trail at all.
“This is a very, very dangerous area of the county so the potential for injury, loss of life was very extreme. We’re very thankful that everything worked out the way it did and he’s alive and well,” said Lt. James Heaton, Carter County Rescue Squad.