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Baton Rouge man on hike now missing for 5 days, search continues in Ozarks

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NEWTON COUNTY, Ark. - A Baton Rouge man who went missing while hiking along the Buffalo National River was found safe after a days-long search. 

National Park Service officials said Preston Smith was located sometime Tuesday morning.

Family members told WBRZ that Smith was found about three hours down the trail and that they are still working to get him to a hospital. He was reportedly dehydrated but still able to walk when rescuers found him.

Smith, 67, had set out on the six-mile hike along the Hemmed-in-Hollow trail by himself sometime Thursday, Oct. 27. No one would hear from or see him again until search and rescue crews found him Tuesday.

Located in the Ozarks, the river attracts thousands of hikers every year. According to the park's website, it's a particularly dangerous trail, with rocky and treacherous terrain.

"Search and rescue efforts in that part of the park in particular occur quite often, so it's not uncommon to have one or two calls a weekend during this time of year up there for folks who got lost or are hurt and need assistance getting out," park ranger Casey Johannsen said.

It's a trail Missouri resident Eugene Prier is very familiar with.

"Last year — and I'm a very inexperienced hiker — my father and I did the Hemmed-in-Hollow trail--and this is hot weather with two 16-ounce bottles of water. Of course you shouldn't do that, but I was inexperienced. I ended up collapsing on the trail and search and rescue had to come and find me," Prier said.

Luckily for Prier, his rescue was quick.

"About 20, 30 minutes from the time I called them they were able to use my phone's GPS coordinates to backtrack, and then they were able to go backwards on the trail and find me."

That obviously was not the case for Smith, as several groups — on horseback and foot — made up of law enforcement, volunteers and search dogs took days to find him.

Prier says from firsthand experience, it's easy to get lost out there, or worse.

"The hard part is there's a lot of ground to cover and there are a lot of places to make a wrong step, or something gives out, you fall, whatever the case may be," he said.

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