NPS: No foul play in death of missing hiker
Rangers said foul play was not suspected in the death of a missing hiker who's body was found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday, October 2. Crews discovered Susan Clements roughly two miles west of the Clingmans Dome parking area, according to a release.
The seven day search ended when crews found the 53-year-old mother from Ohio 3/4 mile from the Appalachian Trail.
Park officials announced the cause of death is under investigation, however foul play is not suspected at this time.
"Our hearts are with the family and friends of Ms. Clements," the park said in a release. "The Park would like to extend our appreciation to the many agencies and organizations that participated in the search effort."
Clement's ex-husband and father of her children, Tim Clements, said, “I want to specifically thank the National Park Service for their incredible efforts. The cooperation shown between more than 50 agencies was amazing, comforting, and very supportive. Every piece of the operation, including the scientific fronts, logistical parts, and the
emotional support provided to us was very impressive. The children, her sisters, and I want to especially thank Jared St. Clair (Chief Ranger), Joe Pond (Incident Commander), James Latendresse (Operations Chief), and Florie Takaki (Family Liaison) for their dedication and support. We also want to thank the countless other people who helped look for Susan. This includes the ground searchers, pilots, drone operators, dog trackers, technicians, EMS providers, the many teams of tactical climbers and rescuers, and the Tennessee Emergency
Management Agency. The kids, her sisters, and I greatly appreciate the intense work they performed for us, and we will be eternally grateful.”
Hours before crews found her body Tuesday, helicopters searched briefly in the morning while other teams focused on off trail areas and used dogs in hopes of finding Clements, who had been hiking with her daughter on the Forney Ridge Trail, near Andrews Bald, when the two separated.
Park officials said the two purposefully separated with a plan to meet back at the Clingmans Dome parking lot. According to rangers, the daughter was hiking ahead and moving faster, which is why the two decided to separate.
In the days following her disappearance, trained personnel from cooperating agencies in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia helped park staff in the large-scale search effort.
Around 125 trained searchers and logistical support personnel from more than 30 state and local agencies and search and rescue organizations participated.
Specialized search and rescue drones, operated by FAA-licensed pilots were used in some areas to help search for Clements.
By closing the seven-mile Clingmans Dome Road on Thursday night, the park transformed the Clingmans Dome parking area into a field “incident command post” from which to manage the complex search. Infrastructure such as tents and self-contained mobile command buses served as portable offices for search personnel and provided a place for searchers to escape the elements, refuel, and receive instructions before heading back out to continue the search for Clements.
Rangers even brought in a mobile cell tower from Verizon Wireless to provide wireless service to assist in search efforts.
The SPOT (Satellite Pico Cell on a Trailer) featured a 30-foot antenna mast with the satellite dish on top of the trailer, which included a portable mini-satellite dish to provide additional wireless service for first responders who searched remote areas where reception could be spotty.
Park officials were alerted that Clements was missing on Tuesday, September 25, and began searching the immediate area with no success.