Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tragedy in the White Mountains Hits Close to Home

Most week days I take the 5:30 AM commuter bus from my hometown of Londonderry NH to Boston. For about the past year we have had a regular driver on this route. Fred is one of the best Concord Coach drivers -- always friendly, and always early, so passengers can wait inside the bus, and get of out of the winter weather. Always, that is, until yesterday morning.

Yesterday the 5:30 AM bus never showed up. It was not a good day to be waiting outside for it. The temperature was about 7 deg F., and the wind was blowing hard and steady. The chill went right through you.

Bill, the ticket seller at the Park and Ride lot, tried to get Fred on his cell phone, but was unsuccessful. He also called the Concord Coach office, but no one there (not many, I'm sure, at 5:30 AM) knew where either the bus or Fred was. Finally, at about 5:50 AM the 6:00 AM bus arrived, and two bus loads of passengers tried to jam in.

All day long I wondered what had happened to Fred and the 5:30 AM bus. He is very reliable, and always calls Bill if he is running late. Not showing up, and not calling is not in character. So, while boarding the bus back to Londonderry yesterday afternoon I asked the driver if he knew what had happened. He didn't.

This morning I found out. Our substitute driver on the 5:30 AM bus told us that Fred and James (another very well-liked Concord Coach driver) were rescued yesterday in the White Mountains and sent to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia. That prompted me to search the Internet, where I found the story in today's Concord Monitor. Here is a brief excerpt.

Two hikers who were missing in Franconia Notch since Sunday were rescued last night by a search team that fought snow squalls, low temperatures and freezing fog.

Laurence "Fred" Frederickson, 55, of South Sutton and James Osborne, 36, of Manchester were found on Little Haystack about 7:30 last night, the Associated Press reported. They were taken to Littleton Regional Hospital for treatment of severe hypothermia.

Both men work for Concord Coach Lines. Osborne manages the Boston Express Bus. The two had planned to hike the Falling Waters Trail to Franconia Ridge, to the 5,260-foot summit of Lafayette and down the Old Bridle Path trail.

Lt. Todd Bogardus of New Hampshire Fish and Game said the trails were not heavily traveled Sunday because of poor weather conditions. While Frederickson was an experienced winter hiker, Bogardus said, it may have been Osborne's first winter hike.
Frederickson's ex-wife, Bette Frederickson, who also lives in Sutton, was frantic after hearing the news yesterday afternoon.

Fred and Bette Frederickson, who were married about 12 years, met at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Cardigan lodge, where he was working and she was taking a course. They honeymooned hiking in the Adirondacks. Bette Frederickson said Fred has vast winter hiking experience and has hiked all of New Hampshire's 4,000-footers.
"Fred is never late for work," Bette Frederickson said. "I don't think Jim is either. Both of them - and (coworkers) knew that both of them were hiking - were missing."
The winds at the top of Mount Washington were gusting at 93 mph just before 5 p.m. last night, causing a wind chill of 50 degrees below zero. James Brown, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said weather at the other peaks was likely slightly less fierce but similar.

On the way in to Boston this morning, the driver announced over the PA system that he just learned that Fred had died. An excerpt from today's Manchester Union Leader provides some additional details.

LINCOLN – One of two hikers found last night on a frigid, windswept Mount Lafayette has died, according to a hospital spokesman.

Laurence 'Fred' Frederickson, 55, of South Sutton, was pronounced dead on arrival at Littleton Regional Hospital, a spokesman said.

Frederickson's hiking companion, James Osborne, 36, of Manchester, was in critical condition, suffering from severe hypothermia when he arrived in Littleton. He was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon where this morning he is in critical condition in the intensive care unit, according to a hospital official.
The discovery ended hours of searching that took place during one of the coldest periods of this winter. Search officials said conditions were treacherous, with subzero temperatures, 60-plus mph winds and freezing fog.

Sadly, stories like this are not new or uncommon. For more than 30 years, at first while living in Colorado, and now in New Hampshire, I have heard scores of local news stories about hikers who became stranded on back country trails when the weather worsened. Many of the hikers were inexperienced. But some, like Fred, had lots of experience. Often the outcomes are happy; too often they are not.

This is the first time -- in all those years -- that the news story has been about people whom I know and admire. I hope to God that this is also the last time.

Farewell, Fred, you will be missed by everyone whose life you have touched.

Godspeed James, we wish you a full and fast recovery.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Fred was a wonderful man and always greeted me with a smile or a funny comment. He noticed when I wasn't on his bus as he did with many of his passengers. I felt like he knew us and cared about us.

He was a positive start to my day and he I will surely miss him.