Unprepared hikers rescued as winter-like conditions persist

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Appalachian Trail hiker Christopher Lebel, 38, of Phippsburg, wrapped in a sleeping bag, walks out with assistance by rescuers through the woods to a waiting ATV. (Maine Warden Service photo)

WELD – With the weather is still very much like winter on Maine’s mountains, emergency personnel were called Saturday night to rescue multiple people who were unprepared to hike in below freezing temperatures.

The Maine Warden Service and emergency service personnel rescued one stranded family on Tumbledown Mountain in Weld, and in a separate incident, one severely hypothermic Appalachian Trail hiker in Township E.

Wardens and emergency service personnel rescued a hiker on the Appalachian Trail Saturday who, rescuers said, likely would not have survived the night after falling into the water.

Christopher J. Lebel, 38, of Phippsburg was hiking south with his dog on the Appalachian Trail in Letter E Township when approximately four miles into his trip, he fell into the water.

Lebel changed his clothes but was unable to get warm and became severely hypothermic with temperatures below freezing, winds blowing, and ice and snow on the ground. Lebel was able to text a friend that he needed help, who in turn contacted 911 at 9:42 p.m. Saturday night. Game wardens and rescuers were able to take an ATV to get closer, then hiked through the woods to reach Lebel.

Rescuers found Lebel unable to walk when they reached him. Wardens started a fire, provided hot liquids and food to Lebel, and were able to re-warm him to the point that he was able to walk out of the woods to the waiting ATV at approximately 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

“Lebel did not have appropriate clothing or hiking gear for this time of year,” said Sgt. Scott Thrasher of the Warden Service. “Had Lebel been unable to send a text for help, it is unlikely he would have survived the night in the woods.”

The Maine Warden Service was assisted in the rescue by members of the Rangeley Fire Department, U.S. Border Patrol and North Star EMS. Lebel was not transported to a hospital.

In Weld, a family of five was also rescued on Saturday night after they had become stranded on the summit of Tumbledown Mountain.

The family, Don Lantona, 53, Meena Latona, 52, Connor Latona, 18, Meaghan Latona, 20, and Ashley Latona, 22, all of Freehold, N.J., had climbed to the top of Tumbledown Mountain on Saturday. Due to the snow and ice at the summit, they could not find the trailhead to descend back down the mountain.

With the sun going down, improper clothing, and not enough food, water or lighting to attempt to climb down the mountain, they called 911 at 6:46 p.m.

Game wardens and first responders hiked up the mountain, where it was windy with temperatures in the low 30s. Upon reaching the summit, rescuers found the family huddled together for warmth. After starting a fire and warming members of the family, rescuers and the family hiked back down the mountain, getting to the base of the mountain approximately at midnight.

“This family was not prepared for the conditions they experienced on this hike. There still is ice snow, and sub-freezing temperatures on the trails of many Maine mountains,” Thrasher noted. “These conditions can be extremely dangerous for those who are unprepared.”

The Warden Service was assisted by members of the Weld Fire Department and Franklin Search and Rescue.

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