CRAWFORD NOTCH, N.H. (AP) – Two Virginia men missing in New Hampshire’s White Mountains were found alive and well on Tuesday, after trudging through torrential rain and 5-foot-deep snow and spending two unexpected nights in the wild.

“I’m doing better now, now that we are out of the woods,” Steven McCay told WMUR-TV, shortly after being reunited with family members.

A National Guard helicopter crew spotted Alex Obert, 30, and McCay, 29, both of Arlington, around 10 a.m., Tuesday, on the south side of Mount Washington, Fish and Game Col. Jeff Gray said.

“They were actually up and in good shape actively hiking out,” Gray said. “Other than being cold, wet and tired, they seem to be in good shape.”

The helicopter crew hoisted the men to safety and flew them to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center, where they were reunited with loved ones.

The men did not have to go to the hospital.

McCay said the two were overtaken by weather while attempting a day hike Sunday of a 19-mile “Presidential” traverse, eight of the tallest mountains in the northeast, all named after U.S. presidents.

“The wind and the snow and the rain just cut our visibility to zero and we couldn’t see,” he told the television station.

But, the experienced hikers were well-equipped, and spent the nights in sleeping bags encased in bivvy sack covers they carried as emergency gear.

Fish and Game was alerted about 2:30 a.m. Monday by a companion who was to meet them Sunday night after their hike.

Searchers from Fish and Game, the Mountain Rescue Service, Appalachian Mountain Club and the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue searched Monday in heavy rains and high winds that made stream crossings difficult to impossible. The poor weather Monday also grounded the Army National Guard helicopter.

On Tuesday, with searchers continuing to trek along trails, clear weather allowed the helicopter to fly.

The rescue effort was one of three conducted in eight days in the Franconia area.

In one of them, Massachusetts hiker Benjamin Davis was rescued from Mount Lafayette, and officials said that cost $3,000. The attorney general must decide whether to send Davis the bill.

“I’ll respect their judgment,” Davis said, adding that “$3,000 is a small price to pay for one’s life.”

Current law requires the Fish and Game Department to meet a high legal threshold to recoup its costs, and lawmakers want to make it easier.

“Right now, we have to prove the behavior was reckless or intentional,” Fish and Game Maj. Tim Acerno said. “This idea would lower that threshold to negligent.”

Officials said changing the law could double the number of rescues that could be reimbursed. In a decade, only about 15 hikers have been billed, and Fish and Game estimates that the changes would have allowed it to bill 40 hikers.

The most that the department can recoup for any rescue is $10,000. Much of that money buys equipment, but it’s also used to train rescuers who are risking everything because someone else may have made a bad decision, officials said.

The bill includes a provision to suspend a hiker’s driver’s license after 30 days until the hiker pays the fee. Because of an arrangement with neighboring states, New Hampshire could suspend licenses from other states.

“There has to be a price to pay, both monetary and losing their licenses,” said Rep. Dennis Abbott, of Newmarket.

The House Fish and Game Committee plans to vote on the plan on March 4.

AP-ES-02-19-08 1852EST


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