A man who says he crashed an ATV and became stranded in the Smokies for three days, spoke to WVLT News about the ordeal from his hospital room.
Emergency responders rescued Austin Miller on Tuesday morning after fire crews spent the overnight hours battling a 20 acre blaze on Bluff Mountain that investigators say Miller started so that crews could find him.
Miller suffered broken bones and hypothermia after crashing the ATV. Fire crews put out the fire.
The 20-year-old Miller is now recovering at University of Tennessee Medical Center.
He told WVLT News he was still in pain, but overall improving. "I had the best feeling when they, the fire department, showed up. I just want to recognize the Sevier County Fire Department for everything they've done. They're life savers," Miller said.
The Sevier County Sheriff's Office said the ATV had been taken from Bluff Mountain Adventures.
Miller said he found the four-wheeler with the keys still in it. He rolled the ATV several times while on a trail in the mountains.
"It felt like a shark bite, or somebody hit me with a crow bar," Miller said. "I was very scared. I didn't know if I was going to die and never come back," Miller said.
It is unclear whether Miller will face charges.
The sheriff's office released their preliminary report, but did not include anything about charges. The report can be read under the "Related documents" tab.
Miller's desperate attempt to survive created two obstacles for rescue teams. Not only were they faced with finding Miller, but they also had to stop the fire that spread 20 acres.
Ed Ledbetter is the Chaplain with Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department. He said the entire scene was dark and smoky.
"The worst part about it was we had a couple of the guys who fought in the middle of the Gatlinburg fire and they were having a little bit of flashbacks," Ledbetter said. "The fire was on a four wheeler trail. So when I mean four wheel trail, it was only like three feet wide."
Ledbetter said at around 12:45 a.m. they were dismissed and the Division of Forestry took over.
"We all came back here. Everyone had left except a four man crew who was stationed here," Ledbetter said. Then, they got a call about a victim on the mountain.
As fire crews got the blaze under control, rescue teams found Miller near his ATV.
"We have a man down. He's been down here for about three or four days. End up, he's the gentleman who set the fire. He set the fire just because he wrecked his four wheeler. He had a broken arm, broken leg, several broken ribs," Ledbetter said. "He said he was cold, his cell phone didn't work."
The effort did not come without a price. A member of the Sevier County Volunteer Rescue Squad was injured by a falling tree. He was taken to UT Hospital, but later released.
"When they start sending the first crew in, I got pretty worried because, considering there's fire around, you don't know if it's going to get better. You don't know if it's going to get worse. You worry about each person that goes up. I was just trying to make sure that in my mind, that my guy and everyone around me, was in a safe spot and make sure everyone was going to be ok in the surroundings," Jacob Godrich, with Sevier County Rescue Squad, said.
The Tennessee Division of Forestry was on Bluff Mountain Tuesday afternoon. They said the fire is out, but they were still checking for hot spots, and will return Wednesday to check again.
"We were out here all night. We got it contained. A few hot spots in stump holes but most of it we got all out," Gerald Shelton, Forestry Technician of Sevier County, said. "We had a hard time locating this fire because it was two miles and six tenths back from here to it, and we got back there and started putting our lines in and we found a four wheeler that had been turned over. We still didn't have a clue that someone was on the ground and was injured, then we heard someone hollering and one of the firefighters went over and found him."
Pigeon Forge Fire Department, Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Sevier County Volunteer Rescue Squad, and the Tennessee Division of Forestry were among the crews that helped make this fire and rescue mission a success.