Emily Sotelo, 19, of Westford, MA, was found deceased on the northwest side of Mount Lafayette in Franconia, NH at approximately 11 a.m. on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022. According to a NH Fish and Game press release, Sotelo had set out on a solo hike of Franconia Ridge Sunday morning, November 20th, and when she didn’t return that evening, a family member contacted NH Fish and Game.
Sunday evening, NH Fish and Game Conservation Officers commenced search and rescue (SAR) operations and were assisted by as many as 50 SAR teams. Over the next three days, SAR members worked to locate Sotelo despite encountering severe, winter-like weather conditions. On Tuesday afternoon, searchers located tracks and items that belonged to Sotelo near the headwaters of Lafayette Brook.
Captain Michael Eastman of NH Fish and Game’s Law Enforcement Division said that by Wednesday, the search had become a recovery effort. Officials didn’t believe Sotelo could have survived zero-degree temperatures and 40 mph wind gusts for multiple days. Later that afternoon, officials located Sotelo between Lafayette Brook and the summit of Mt. Lafayette. A New Hampshire Army National Guard helicopter transported her deceased body to the Cannon Mountain Ski Area.
While an official cause of death was not reported Wednesday, exposure to the elements is probable. “It looks like she had been blown off the top of the mountain in the high winds and cold temperatures,” Eastman said.
Sotelo was an active student in the Vanderbilt University community and was double majoring in biochemistry and chemical biology, a college spokesperson told The Tennessean. Officials said she was attempting to complete her hike of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-foot peaks before she turned 20 years old this week.
“The biggest lessons learned in a tragedy like this is when you’re hiking in New Hampshire, especially in the White Mountains, be prepared for the unexpected,” said Fish and Game Maj. David Walsh. “Be prepared with knowledge. Know the weather conditions. Dress for the weather conditions. Have extra clothes. Have extra food, water. Have a headlamp map, a compass.”
Featured image: Photo via NH Fish and Game Law Enforcement Division and Operation Game Thief.
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