Lost Person at Fall Creek Falls Dies after 17 Hour Rescue

Photos by Piney Volunteer Fire Department

At approximately 3:00 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024, Piney Volunteer Fire Department, Fall Creek Falls Fire Department, Fall Creek Falls State Park, and Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to a lost person off Park Road near the north entrance of Fall Creek Falls State Park. Personnel arrived and found tracks in the snow leading into the woods. The track was followed to the bluff line overlooking Cane Creek Gorge.

Due to the steep terrain, deep snow, and frigid conditions, rescue personnel were called back to rehab. Tennessee Highway Patrol was requested to fly to the area with their FLIR thermal imaging camera. The THP helicopter responded to the area and found the subject.

Personnel were quickly dispatched to respond to the location. It took a crew of park rangers over an hour to hike into the area.

After a location was confirmed, rescue personnel from Dunlap Fire Department, Chattanooga Cave & Cliff, Putnam County Rescue Squad, White County Rescue Squad, Warren County Rescue Squad, Sequatchie County EMA, and rangers from many state parks across Tennessee. The patient was down a 700 ft bluff that required a couple of rope systems to be set up for hauls.

The rescue personnel worked to set up the systems and man the ropes. Personnel were also swapped out when possible to allow for rehab and warming themselves: the frigid temperatures and deep snow hampered rescue efforts. The temperature was recorded as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

After a 17-hour rescue, the victim was a 46-year-old man from Van Buren County who died from his injuries. One rescuer was treated at a local hospital for mild hypothermia.