ELKINS, W.Va. — State Police say it took a lot of effort to locate and rescue three stranded fishermen in the high mountains of Randolph County Monday.
The three victims Billy W. Wilkerson II, 41, and Ricky L. Rohrbaugh, 42, both of Fairmont, and an unidentified 12-year-old boy, walked more than three miles from their vehicle down the mountainside to Shavers Fork for trout fishing.
State Police First Sgt. Greg Stalnaker said they crossed the river and spent the afternoon fishing on Sunday, but when they crossed again at the same spot to head back to their vehicle, the trail was lost.
“The sun heated up and the snow pushed down the laurel and they couldn’t find their tracks to get back out,” Stalnaker said. “They decided then to hunker down and spend the night and they were able to build a fire, but the next day they were still disoriented.”
Troopers were able to locate their vehicle pretty quickly on the Forest Service Road 92 near Files Creek. U.S. Marshal’s used a ping off their cell phone and were able to narrow their location to a five-mile radius, but the phone eventually died before it could pinpoint the precise location.
Stalnaker said once found, getting to the three was almost as hard as locating them.
“The snow was up to my knees and some of the drifts were four and five feet still,” said Stalnaker.
A large number of the family, friends, and volunteers got involved including a generous resident of Harman who loaned troopers the use of a “snow cat” tracked vehicle to haul the three victims out of the rugged terrain. There was an attempt to use a helicopter to reach the three but high winds made the aerial rescue too risky.
The victims said they saw the helicopter once, but were under a thick layer of evergreen trees and couldn’t signal. Stalnaker said the decision by the three to stay put and build a fire probably saved them from a worse fate. Two of the three were taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital suffering from hypothermia and frostbite. The third victim refused treatment.