Park authorities confirm missing hikers found alive

October 15, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • Neal Peckens, left, and Jason Hiser
Neal Peckens, left, and Jason Hiser

A Boonsboro High School graduate and another man who disappeared while hiking in Montana’s Glacier National Park were found alive and well, park authorities said Monday night.

The men — Neal Peckens, 32, a Boonsboro graduate who now lives in Herndon, Va., and Jason Hiser, 32, of Richmond, Va. — were reported missing Friday, prompting a three-day search of the rugged, snow-covered area of the park in which they were hiking.

A post on Glacier National Park’s Facebook page at about 6:15 p.m. Monday read: “The two missing hikers, Neal Peckens and Jason Hiser, have been located! Initial information indicates they are well and will be returning to their families!”

The men were located at approximately 3:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, which is 5:30 p.m. on the East Coast, and they are doing well with no injuries, according to Glacier National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann.

“They were flown out of the backcountry and met family members anxiously awaiting their return,” she said in a news release posted on the park’s website.

Both men, who are veterinarians, are experienced hikers originally from western Maryland — Peckens from Boonsboro and Hiser from La Vale. They met at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Va. Both are married.

Peckens’ uncle, Henry Stiles of Boonsboro, said he received the good news in a phone call from his sister and Peckens’ mother, who went out to Montana, about 10 minutes after the men were found.

“The park service said they were both in good enough shape to walk out if they wanted, but they were going to fly them out on a helicopter anyway,” Stiles said. “At this point, everything looks good. If they said they were healthy enough or in good enough condition to walk out the rest of the way ... that’s probably a good sign.”

Earlier Monday, the National Park Service said as many as 50 people on foot and horseback, along with a specialized dog team, were searching the backcountry near the Two Medicine region on the park’s east side. The agency said the team found a recently used fire ring and some tracks Sunday on the west side of the Continental Divide that suggested the men may have gone off trail in wintry conditions that included more than a foot of snow in some areas.

“The weather was quite challenging for the search operation,” Germann said. “Search personnel encountered winter weather conditions and up to 18 inches of snow on trails, snow drifts, limited visibility and very windy conditions.”

More favorable conditions Monday allowed search-and-rescue crews to make two aerial observation flights over the search area while ground teams continued to comb the terrain.

There was no official announcement from park authorities about how or where exactly the men were found.

According to their backcountry permit, the men planned to hike Oct. 9-10. They were reported missing by family members Friday after failing to catch a flight home. Their vehicle was found late Friday and the search started Saturday.

Hiser’s mother, Sandy of La Vale, Md., said that the two men had taken several hiking trips to other western national parks in the past four years.

Glacier National Park features pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, spectacular lakes and more than 700 miles of trails. Weather can be unpredictable in the mountains, with sunny conditions one minute, and coldness and rain the next, according to the park’s website.

Officials believe Peckens and Hiser had planned a 17-mile hike that looped back around to the starting point, beginning Tuesday from the North Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine on the east side of the park and returning Wednesday after staying overnight at a campsite in between.

Peckens, a 1998 graduate of Boonsboro High School, is a cardiologist with Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates. He works out of offices in Vienna and Springfield, Va., according to the group’s website.

Hiser is an associate veterinarian at the Broad Street Veterinary Hospital in Richmond, where clients were calling to offer prayers and assistance before the men were found.

Organizations assisting Glacier National Park with the search include Flathead County Sheriff's Office, Flathead Country Search and Rescue, North Valley Search and Rescue, Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources, and the U.S. Border Patrol, Germann said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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