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Sue Bush
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Hikers Found After Police Search

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Williamstown - Four female hikers who used a cell phone to call police for help were walked to safety during the Sept. 11 evening after a Massachusetts State Police Airwing helicopter detected their location. The helicopter personnel guided police officers on the ground to the women.

Town police Chief Kyle Johnson said that town police were notified of the women and their situation at about 7:15 p.m.. State police officers contacted town officers and reported that a woman had called state police to report being lost. The woman was able to tell police that the group was near a sign that stated they were 6/10 of a mile from the Pine Cobble Trail.

The hiking group members are all from Germany and are unfamiliar with the area they were hiking, Johnson said. The unidentified group believed to be in their mid-thirties had begun their trek along a northeastern section of White Oaks Road near the Vermont state border. Their intent was to hike to the Pine Cobble Trail, he said.

Being unfamiliar with the region caused some anxiety as daylight faded and the women were afraid that darkness would overtake them before they were able to exit the woods, Johnson said.

Police tried to pinpoint the women's location using GPS coordinates from the cell phone call but the coordinates honed in on the Latham Street cell tower that provided signal, Johnson said.

Officers located a rental car believed to belong to the group at the top of the White Oaks Road hiking trail. Police officers had a general idea of where the women were early on during the search, Johnson said.

Once the helicopter arrived, equipment on board detected the women's location through their body heat. Those on board the helicopter delivered the location coordinates to officers on the ground, whose cruisers are outfitted with computers that have area topography maps programmed into them. Johnson said officers were able to use the technology to calculate the women's location and those aboard the helicopter also assisted those on foot with directions.

The women were found in good health near a Chestnut Street Trail intersection at about 9:23 p.m..

"It really wasn't so much a search and rescue as it was an assist," Johnson said. "The women got nervous because they thought it would get dark before they could get to the [Pine Cobble] trail and then get out of the woods, get to a street. They did do the right thing; they called and then they stayed put until we got to them."

"They believed they were lost but once we got some coordinates, we knew where they were," Johnson said. "Being on a trail made it much different than being out somewhere in the woods."

Johnson praised the state police Airwing unit for their work.

"The Airwing was instrumental," he said. "It made everything so much easier."

Town officers involved in the search were Johnson, Sgt. Paul Thompson, and Officers John McConnell and Michael Ziemba.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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