Search and Rescue Teams Locate Missing Hiker in Buffalo National River

by Amy Myers
Photo by: Andre Seale/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

After four days of searching, rescue teams located a hiker that had gone missing while exploring near Buffalo National River in the vicinity of Horseshoe Bend. Thankfully, the 67-year-old hiker, Clinton “Preston” Smith from Baton Rouge, Louisiana was alive and in “good spirits” when search teams recovered him.

Initially, Smith set out for a day hike on the Hemmed-in-Hollow Trail in Buffalo National River, Newton County, AR on October 27. The following day, Smith’s family reported him missing, and National Park Service officials promptly began search efforts the next morning, October 29. The rescue operation focused on the Ponca Wilderness and included grid-style ground searches, aerial searches and tracking dogs. The national river even mentioned a horse-led team in the official release. For a brief period on the first day of the operation, inclement weather caused the teams to postpone their efforts until the rain stopped.

Finally, on November 1 at around noon, rescue personnel located Smith and assisted him out to Kyles Landing of Buffalo National River. It’s unclear if the hiker required any further medical attention.

Following the rescue of the 67-year-old hiker, the NPS reminded visitors that the terrain surrounding Buffalo National River can be especially strenuous.

“Park rangers urge hikers to be aware of hazards and be physically prepared for all attempted hiking trips. The Hemmed-in-Hollow Trail is steep and rugged,” the Park Service said. “Off-trail travel is often dangerous, and we ask visitors to please stay on established trails to avoid injury and disorientation.”

Man Dies Just Months Before at Same National River in Arkansas

Not far from where Smith went missing, another man lost his life while exploring Buffalo National River on May 7 this year. Just before 5 p.m. that day, the local dispatch center received a call regarding a man who had fallen near the Eye of the Needle in the Ponca Wilderness. Upon arrival, rescue personnel found 46-year-old Brad Thomas from Springfield, Missouri unresponsive after falling 20 feet in the Indian Creek drainage. Both witnesses and emergency teams attempted CPR and life-saving efforts, but unfortunately, these actions were unsuccessful.

Following the tragedy, park authorities offered a statement of support for Smith’s loved ones and gratitude to the teams that aided in the effort to recover Smith’s remains.

Deep condolences go out to Mr. Thomas’s family and friends. The National Park Service also expresses its thanks to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, Mennonite Disaster Service, BUFFSAR volunteers, Arkansas National Guard, Harrison Fire Department, Newton County Office of Emergency Management, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, and the Newton County Baptist Church for their assistance during this incident.

Sadly, Thomas’ death was one of many emergency calls that rangers have responded to in the area lately.

“Rangers have responded to multiple hiking accidents in the Indian Creek drainage over the past month. This undeveloped backcountry area includes extremely technical, loose and slippery footing, and steep terrain,” the national river reported. “Even the most experienced hiker is susceptible to injury. Hikers should be equipped for self-rescue, as emergency response can take several hours at this location.”