CONCORD, NH (AP) — A Massachusetts woman who went missing during a weekend hike in New Hampshire was found dead on her 20th birthday on Wednesday.
Emily Sotelo of Westford, Massachusetts, had planned to climb three peaks in the White Mountains on Sunday. Officials said her mother dropped her off at a campsite near Franconia Notch before dawn and alerted authorities when she failed to return by late afternoon.
Fish and Game officers and volunteers from more than a dozen search and rescue teams spent the next few days combing the area with planes and sniffer dogs. They found tracks and items belonging to Sotelo on the upper reaches of the Lafayette Brook Tuesday afternoon, but that night they described their efforts as more of a salvage mission than a rescue.
According to Fish and Game, Sotelo’s body was found at 11:15 a.m. on the northwest side of Mount Lafayette in Franconia. An Army National Guard helicopter took them to the nearby Cannon Mountain ski resort.
Officials said Sotelo was close to meeting her goal of climbing New Hampshire’s 48 peaks over 4,000 feet before she turns 20, but was completely unprepared for Sunday’s deep snow and high winds. She wore a light jacket, hiking boots and track pants over long underwear.
“Sunday night weather conditions were single digit temperatures, 40 to 60 mph winds, blowing snow and she was not dressed appropriately for those temperatures,” Fish and Game Maj. David Walsh told WMUR-TV. “These are extreme conditions and then she went astray.”
Sotelo was a sophomore in biochemistry and chemical biology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. In a letter to the students, Vice Provost GL Black said Sotelo has become an active member of the community since transferring from the College of William & Mary and a leader in an organization dedicated to reducing drug abuse on campus.
Her parents told reporters she is an experienced hiker but hasn’t hiked much in winter. A woman who answered the phone at her home on Wednesday declined to comment on her behalf.
Walsh said Sotelo’s death should serve as a warning to all wanderers.
“Be prepared for the unexpected, be prepared with knowledge,” he said. “Know the weather conditions, dress appropriately for the weather conditions, have extra clothing, extra food, water, a headlamp, a map and a compass.”
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