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4 college students camping in Kentucky gorge rescued during snowstorm: ‘Potentially life or death situation’

Rescuers in Kentucky saved four college students who were camping atop Courthouse Rock in Red River Gorge when they became stranded in a winter storm.

A rescue operation was launched in Kentucky on Monday after four college students camping in a gorge "underestimated" the weather conditions and became stranded in a snowstorm, officials said.

The four men, who attend Asbury College, were camping overnight atop Courthouse Rock in Red River Gorge when they woke up covered in snow, Powell County Search and Rescue said. The group decided it was too dangerous to climb down and called for help around 9:30 a.m.

Rescuers assessed trail conditions and quickly determined that due to the severity of the winter weather, the safest way to evacuate the students would be via helicopter, the rescue service said.

Kentucky State Police helped to coordinate the rescue and dispatched a helicopter to reach the stranded students. 

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The rescue helicopter arrived at Courthouse Rock around 2:05 p.m. and safely picked up the students. They were flown to Middlefork Fire Department where Powell County EMS personnel were waiting to evaluate the students.

"Other than being cold, all four students seemed to be in good spirits," Powell County Search and Rescue said.

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Rescuers described the operation as "one of the most dangerous rescues ever attempted" in the gorge, which they said was "treacherous" even when the weather conditions were good.

"Add in several inches of snow, icy rock faces, and a dash of wind; you have the perfect recipe for tragedy," the rescue service said. "Helicopters are inherently dangerous. When that is deemed the safest option, you know you’ve found yourself in potentially life or death situation."

Winter storms in Kentucky had created treacherous travel conditions, prompting Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday to declare a state of emergency.

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