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New Ipswich

Ahead of storm, lost hikers found

NEW IPSWICH — The New Ipswich Fire Department joined N.H. Fish and Game for a search for four lost hikers on Wapack Trail on Tuesday night.

Massachusetts residents Laura Ann Stern, 24, Erin Stern, 19, Alexis Gibbons, 18 and Whitney Mansfield, 18, had started their hike from the Mount Watatic Trailhead on Route 119 in Ashburnham, Mass. The group hiked to the summit of Mount Watatic, with the intention of backtracking to their starting point in Ashburnham. Instead, the foursome unintentionally hiked north into New Hampshire on the Wapack Trail.

As darkness fell, the women realized they had made an error and were lost, and called 911 for assistance at approximately 11 p.m. Searchers were dispatched. N.H. Fish and Game Officer William Boudreau and New Ipswich Fire Department personnel located the group shortly before midnight in the Binney Pond Natural Area.

In a phone interview Wednesday, New Ipswich Fire Chief David Leel said that though the hikers didn’t know the area they were in, they were able to describe it well enough that searchers had a good idea of their location.

“We have three firefighters that live in the area and hike the area quite a lot, and we had a pretty fair idea of where to find them. They went in and within maybe 20 minutes or half an hour, they walked right into each other,” said Leel, referring to the lost hikers and rescuers. “It gave us a tremendous advantage,” he added about having personnel familiar with the area.

Time was especially crucial in this instance, added Leel, since there were reports of bad weather rolling in from the North, and by the time the authorities had been notified of the lost hikers, it was expected to hit within the hour. “We knew it was crunch time,” said Leel. Luckily, he added, the group was found quickly, and search officials were able to lead them out to Binney Pond Road, where they were transported to the New Ipswich Fire Department to be picked up by waiting family members to drive them home to Massachusetts. “I don’t think that we were home for five minutes and it started raining,” said Leel. “We were lucky.”

N.H. Fish and Game Department’s Law Enforcement Division cautions anyone who wants to take advantage of New Hampshire’s recreational opportunities to do so responsibly, learn to be self-reliant, and carry the essential equipment to include a trail map and a map and compass. For more information go to hikesafe.com.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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