CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A Massachusetts woman who disappeared during a weekend hike in New Hampshire was found dead Wednesday on what would have been her 20th birthday.
Emily Sotelo, of Westford, Mass., had planned to hike three peaks in the White Mountains on Sunday. Officials said her mother dropped her off before dawn at a campground near Franconia Notch 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 several days combing the area, using aircraft and scent dogs. They found tracks and items belonging to Sotelo at the headwaters of Lafayette Brook on Tuesday afternoon, but by that night were describing their efforts as a recovery mission rather than rescue.
Sotelo’s body was found on the northwest side of Mount Lafayette in Franconia at 11:15 a.m., according to Fish and Game. An Army National Guard helicopter brought her to the nearby Cannon Mountain ski area.
Officials said Sotelo was close to reaching her goal of hiking New Hampshire’s 48 peaks above 4,000 feet before she turned 20 but was woefully unprepared for the deep snow and high winds on Sunday. She was wearing a light jacket, hiking sneakers and exercise pants over long underwear.
“Weather conditions by Sunday evening were single digit temperatures, 40 to 60 mile per hour winds, blowing snow, and she was not dressed accordingly for those temperatures,” Fish and Game Maj. David Walsh told WMUR-TV. “Those are extreme conditions and then she ended up off trail.”
Sotelo was a sophomore majoring in biochemistry and chemical biology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. In a letter to students, Vice Provost G.L. Black said Sotelo had become an active member of the community since transferring from the College of William & Mary and was a leader in an organization working to reduce drug abuse on campus.
Her parents told reporters she was an experienced hiker, but had not done much winter hiking. A woman who answered the phone at their home Wednesday declined to comment on their behalf.
Walsh said Sotelo’s death should serve as a warning to all hikers.
“Be prepared for the unexpected, be prepared with knowledge,” he said. “Know the weather conditions, dress for the weather conditions, have extra clothes, have extra food, water, a headlamp, a map and compass.”