After a six-day battle against the bitter wilderness, two Virginia hikers are back home in the arms of loved-ones. Jason Hiser and Neal Peckens embraced family and friends awaiting for their return at the Richmond International Airport late Tuesday afternoon. For nearly a week, it was uncertain if these embraces would ever happen.
Hiser, of Richmond, and Peckens, of Herndon, fought the frigid backcountry in Montana's Glacier National Park. The men, both veterinarians, faced unforgiving conditions after trying to wait out a storm that only got worse. They endured 18 inches of snow in some places, and harsh winds. One of the men fell a hundred feet off a cliff, according to park rangers. Their only map was blown out of their hands by a wind gust.
"If there's one thing that kept him going, it was that little girl," said Norma Brown, speaking of her son-in-law's love for his one-year-old daughter. She spoke to him over the phone after he was flown by helicopter to safety.
Park rangers say the experienced hikers did everything right. They kept a fire going as long as possible, spelled SOS with logs, and hung colored flags near their tent.
Search crews didn't relent. Two rescuers ultimately found Hiser and Peckens Monday, and flew them to safety. Rangers say both men were cold and wet, but in fairly good condition with no injuries.
Peckens's mother says she broke down after days of despair when hearing her son had been located.
"When I found out that he was found, I just let go and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed," said Kathy Peckens.
The Broad Street Veterinary Hospital has kept its lights on since Hiser and Peckens went missing. Coworkers say Hiser will be the one to switch them off. A welcome sign also awaits him, hanging on the front of the veterinary hospital.
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