Ranger Recounts Play-by-Play of Congaree Rescue


By Monique Williams

Hopkins, S.C. (WOLO) -- The U.S. Law Enforcement ranger who located a missing Midlands man and his two children in the Congaree National Park, shares the final moments before the family was brought to safety.

It was about 4:30 Tuesday morning when law enforcement ranger, Jared Gurtler, was nearing the end of his overnight shift at the Congaree National Park.

"I was on the trail hollering for our missing party, just hollering, hollering, hollering," said Gurtler.

"You may think sound is coming from one direction when it's really coming from another direction," Gurtler reflected. "During daylight hours when the birds start chirping you just can't hear anything."

And then, a break.

"I eventually got what I thought was a human voice, saying, 'please come help us.'"

That voice came from J.R. Kimbler, who had been lost in the swampy forest since Saturday night, his two kids, a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old, in tow.

"I asked everyone to holler back and they did."

After nearly three days of covering more than 10,000 acres of woods on foot, by boat and in the air, Gurtler, a couple of miles from the visitors center, had made a huge discovery: three needles in a haystack.

"I told them to stay still," said Gurtler. [Mr. Kimbler] didn't follow my directions. He came straight to my voice. I had three bottles of water and tossed them to him."

At that point the ranger called for the state Department of Natural Resources back-up, who responded with ATV's.

"...and we were able to bring father and children out by 7:45am," said park spokesperson, Dana Soehn.

"They looked pretty rough," said Gurtler. "But, after I started talking to them, they were coherent. I was relieved, excited, ecstatic everyone was healthy and okay. It was a huge burden that just lifted."

Gurtler claims this is his agency's eleventh search and rescue effort since January. If the count never gets to a dozen, he says, that will be just fine.

"It just worked out in our favor."

Congaree National Park has been reopened to the general public.

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