Iron Ridge mine rescue was fast thanks to ‘miracle’ cell signal; hikers charged

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 10:41 PM EDT
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GALAX, Va. (WDBJ) - UPDATE: The three hikers who were rescued from a mine in Galax have been charged with trespassing, according to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Galax Fire Chief is calling Monday night’s mine rescue a miracle after that department and many others joined forces to rescue hikers who got lost.

The hikers were able to get cell phone signal 1,000 feet below the ground in an area where there’s hardly any service above.

“It’s not one person, one agency, it’s everybody,” Chief Mike Ayers said.

It only took one dispatch call to put more than 60 Galax volunteers in motion. Although they don’t train every day to go in a mine, they’re ready to help when the need arises.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Ayers said. “There are things we just don’t know, we don’t have the expertise that Blacksburg has, which is why we call the experts in. But, they adapted and overcame and took care of business.”

Dispatchers paged Blacksburg and Bristol for their cave rescue teams to head out, but their services were not needed because local teams were able to find the women thanks to a cell phone.

“It’s 100% a God thing,” Ayers said. “They did the right thing. They stopped when they were lost, they didn’t go any further and stayed put waiting for help to come.”

The women were able to get one bar of cell service when they stopped after they had realized they were lost in the old Iron Ridge Mine.

Ayers said this area is not a place to visit. It covers more than 200,000 square acres of land and is covered in ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Danger’ signs. The mine is far enough away from the New River Trail State Park so people don’t accidentally end up in it.

“This is not maintained; this is so dangerous and some of the shafts go two miles back through the mountain,” he said. “It’s not the place to be.”

Ayers said the mine ran for 57 years in the 1900s to mine iron for the war effort. It eventually closed in 1962 and has been abandoned ever since.

“We certainly don’t want to see anyone else go in, get hurt and especially us have to go get them out again,” Ayers said.

No injuries were reported Monday night. The call for help went out just before 9:30 p.m. and the hikers were recovered in less than an hour once first responders got positioned at the mouth of the cave.

According to Ayers, dispatchers did try to ping the cell phone, but the women were so far beneath the ground that they couldn’t pinpoint their exact location. A search dog helped to narrow down the area they were near, then first responders went in groups down separate shafts until they could locate the hikers.

“A lot of the stuff we see is not good, so we celebrate the wins,” Ayers said. “We celebrate the wins every chance we get, and this is a win.”

The fire chief asks that you do not go into the abandoned 100-year-old mine. Ayers said there are plenty of other options for caving across our hometowns.

The women could face charges for trespassing on the land. WDBJ7 has contacted the Carroll County Sheriff to find out if any will be issued.

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