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ACHS celebrates graduates during annual commencement ceremony

NEWLAND — Avery County High school sent off its latest generation of graduates at its commencement ceremony on Friday, June 7, inside Viking Gymnasium.

The ceremony marked the graduation of a class that received $500,000 in scholarship awards to attend higher education institutions, and had to be moved indoors from the ceremony’s usual outdoors venue at the school’s football stadium due to the weather.

This commencement was also notable because it marked the high school’s 50th year of conferring graduates, and the soon-to-begin major construction and renovation project that will be the first to significantly alter the look of the school building, with the demolition of two of its pods and the construction of an entirely new front entrance.

Just hours earlier, the high school also held a 50th anniversary jubilee to honor the occasion, with artifacts from the high school’s past laid out all over the media center, with guided tours of the school being given by retired teachers.

Avery’s graduation for 2019 was in a similar vein as most ceremonies, as the event was a student-focused affair.

The school’s band and chorus were on hand for the proceedings, with “Pomp and Circumstance” being played as the graduates marched in from the back of the gym and the stands were packed to capacity with friends and family. Everything from the welcomes to prayers were all performed by the students, with special addresses delivered by Salutatorian A.J. Ayers and Valedictorian Betsy Norwood.

The diplomas were presented one by one before ACHS Principal Philip Little gave the graduates the word to move their tassels from the right side of their caps to the left, a visual symbol of graduation.

“They have certainly made their mark on this school in a lot of areas, incredible achievements, half a million dollars worth of scholarships. They’re going to be hard to replace, but that’s our job,” Little said.

This also marked the end of Little’s first year as the high school’s principal. He said being a principal is the best job in the world.

“It’s great to have a job that matters,” Little said. “When you see kids walk across the stage and turn their tassels because they’re excited about what happens next, you see their parents out in the stands beaming because they know the great things their kid has, that’s the biggest reward you can have as an educator.”

Board of Education Chair John Greene said the group seems close knit and has a lot of standouts.

“These are a lot of really high achievers that are going to make us proud,” Greene said.

Second Black Hawk rescue in two weeks takes place at Grandfather Mountain

LINVILLE — A second Black Hawk helicopter rescue in 11 days took place near one of the peaks in the Grandfather Mountain State Park after a hiker suffered a broken ankle on June 5.

Watauga County Emergency Management’s Taylor Marsh, who assisted in the rescue, said the call came at 11:30 a.m. for an injured 24-year-old male. According to Frank Ruggiero of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the hiker suffered the injury in the Attic Window area.

Brandon Townsend, a full-time firefighter at Linville Volunteer Fire Department, said the patient was stable but was unable to walk or apply any weight to his ankle. With potential severe weather nearby, Townsend said the patient had found some shelter underneath some rocks.

Attic Window is one of several mountaintops of the Grandfather Mountain area, which consists of the Grandfather Mountain State Park and the privately owned attraction. The incident took place in the state park, Ruggiero said.

“Local rescuers from Watauga and Avery counties hiked in and treated the patient on site,” a June 5 statement from the N.C. Department of Public Safety said.

Marsh said the patient was located 1.5 miles away from the nearest parking lot. Due to the rugged mountain terrain, a carryout would have taken six-plus hours, Marsh said.

Additionally, Townsend said the responders were receiving reports from the National Weather Service of storms producing heavy rain and lightning moving through the area, which posed an increased risk for rescue workers who would have had to perform a high-angle rescue without the airlift.

“He wasn’t exactly where we thought he was going to be but he was close, so we’re looking at the map and we know that we’ve got so many sets of ladders that we’re going to have to negotiate, so we know off the top that’s going to be a high angle,” Townsend said.

Marsh said his department contacted N.C. Emergency Management and requested the assistance of the North Carolina Helo-Aquatic Rescue Team for an airlift rescue.

“While avoiding fog rolling over the mountain, the N.C. HART crew hoisted the injured hiker into the aircraft, flew to a nearby landing area and transferred him to a waiting ambulance for transport to a local hospital,” the NCDPS June 5 statement said.

The Black Hawk landed at MacRae Meadows and the man was transported by Avery EMS, Ruggiero said.

“Today’s rescue was conducted by a Salisbury-based aircrew from the N.C. National Guard flying a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, and three rescue technicians from the Charlotte Fire Department,” the NCDPS June 5 statement said. “More than a dozen emergency service agencies statewide provide trained rescue technicians that participate in the program.”

Other responding departments included Linville Central Rescue Squad, N.C. State Parks, Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation staff, Linville VFD, Crossnore VFD, Elk Park VFD, Banner Elk Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue.

N.C. DPS said that since N.C. HART was established in 2004, the first of its kind in the nation, the team has saved hundreds of lives.

“NC HART represents the best of North Carolina, partnering our state’s first responders and aviators to save lives,” N.C. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry stated. “Today’s rescue required extensive training and skill and I appreciate the dedication and service of our NC HART members and local rescuers.”

A similar incident occurred on May 26 when a hiker suffered an ankle injury in the MacRae Peak area, which neighbors Attic Window. The hiker was airlifted by N.C. HART to MacRae Meadows, where he was transported to Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville, where he was released later in the day.

County hit by heavy rain, avoids severe damage

AVERY COUNTY — Avery County was slammed with heavy rain over the weekend, with special note to unexpectedly heavy rains falling on the county over the course of Sunday, June 9.

The total recorded precipitation was not available at the National Weather Service’s Banner Elk meter as of press time, but the Beech Mountain meter showed more than four inches of precipitation over the weekend.

Flooding events in the county were isolated to low-lying areas and several campgrounds that commonly experience flooding, though not all areas around the county were so lucky. Linville Volunteer Fire Department and Linville-Central Rescue Squad were dispatched to Caldwell County to evacuate flooded houses on Edgemont Road.

Linville VFD volunteer firefighter Levin Sudderth said both departments approached from different sides due to concerns over the roads becoming impassable. Linville-Central was unable to assist but Linville Fire was able to approach from Edgemont road. Firefighters had to walk approximately a mile to reach the homes due to the state of the roads.

Avery County Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Buchanan said there were few sustained power outages in the county, with both Mountain Electric and Duke Energy restoring power quickly when isolated outages occurred, including one in the Powdermill area for several hours. The county’s volunteer fire departments were out assisting, checking and keeping roadways cleared, as well as performing small tasks as needed. Buchanan gave special thanks to the efforts of NCDOT with regard to keeping roadways clear.

“Any time we had trees down and road closures, they were on top of it,” Buchanan said.

NC Hwy. 105 was shut down briefly due to debris in the roadway which was cleared by NCDOT.

Buchanan said the county was caught slightly off guard by the intensity of the Sunday rain and there were road closures in Banner Elk and the Crossnore-Pineola area, yet the waters receded before there was any severe flooding.

Buchanan added that Avery County Emergency Management did set up a temporary warming shelter at the Rock Gym in Newland and some of those in campgrounds either left or positioned campers on higher ground. There were also some evacuations in the Linville Land Harbor area. Buchanan added the shelter was shut down late on Sunday evening after the water receded.

Part of the rescue operation in the area included an operation in the Pineola area involving livestock. Emergency workers moved in to rescue some horses from floodwaters, though Buchanan said the goats had the foresight to get to higher ground.

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