Sheriff’s Office utilizes STAR in search for students lost during frat initiation


Photo courtesy of the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office


The Spalding County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday night located and rescued seven hikers lost in the woods during what officials are describing as a fraternity initiation.

Deputies at 10:44 p.m. learned that seven men had been reported missing in the 800 block of Baptist Camp Road.

Upon arrival, deputies were contacted by Austin Grant, who reported that he and approximately 40 to 45 other University of Georgia students were on a camping trip when seven students decided to go hiking in the woods at around 8:30 p.m.

It was reported that none of those seven students took a flashlight or cellphone on the hike.

When the hikers did not return, the remaining students searched for approximately two hours, but were unable to locate them. They were then reported missing to 911.

Because the temperature was cold and dropping with intermittent sprinkling rain, the hikers were not dressed appropriately for those conditions and they were without water or shelter, Sheriff Darrell Dix activated the Aviation Unit (STAR) to conduct an air search for the missing students.

While a grid search of the area was being conducted a small campfire was located several hundred feet in the woods, just under a mile away from where the hike began.

Deputies on the ground were guided to the area by STAR and all seven hikers were located huddled around the fire they had built.

They were cold and wet, but otherwise unharmed.

Officials say that in interviews after the rescue, it was learned the students became lost while participating in a fraternity initiation, during which they were not allowed to have cell phones, flashlights or other personal items.

“The actions of the initial responding deputies, investigators, and deployment of STAR piloted by Chief Deputy Tony Thomason, with Captain Joe Peavy acting as Tactical Flight Officer, resulted in this successful ending. This whole incident was the result of a fraternity initiation that put the students that were missing in a potentially dangerous situation due to the fact that all the students involved underestimated the weather,” said Sheriff Darrell Dix. “They forget how fast something that was meant to be funny can turn into a serious situation.”

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