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Safe Hunting?

Sparta Official Pulled from Frigid Swamp in Wilderness

BY GEORGE BERKIN AND JIM LOCKWOOD

Star-Ledger Staff

11 December 2003

Sparta's deputy mayor, hunting bear and deer in a wilderness area of Sussex County, got lost for more than two hours last night, spending more than an hour trapped in bone-chilling, waist-deep swamp water, authorities said.

But as about a dozen rescuers located the frozen hunter on Hamburg Mountain in Hardyston Township, they, too, got caught in the icy waters -- setting in motion a massive rescue effort.

The bedraggled hunter, Scott Seelagy, 42, was finally pulled from the wilderness north of Route 23 around 8 p.m., according to police. He was taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where he was held overnight for observation for hypothermia, said his wife, Kimberly.

"He's fine," Kimberly Seelagy said from the hospital, where her husband was surrounded by a phalanx of doctors and nurses. "He'll go back out (today)," she added.

"He's doing okay," added his mother-in-law, Carol Derise, reached at the family home in Sparta. "He likes to hunt."

Seelagy began hunting yesterday morning, according to friends. He and a friend were hunting east of the Black Bear Country Club, in the area of Silver Grove Road.

But by late afternoon, Seelagy discovered that he was lost. At 5:15 p.m., either Seelagy or his friend called family members from a cell phone, friends said.

Seelagy walked west, over the mountain toward Franklin, police said. He spotted a red light from a water tower and used it for guidance. But soon, he walked into a swamp, and could not move.

There, in the pitch dark, he was stuck for more than an hour.

Meanwhile, police officers, using lights and sirens, searched for him, and finally located him. To aid in the rescue, Seelagy fired his firearm into the ground.

Rescuers finally arrived. First on the scene was Franklin Fire Chief Joseph Kistle and Hardyston police officer Ed O'Rourke.

"It was where he was in a swamp up to his waist, and the guys going in had a hard time," said Franklin police Lt. Milo Mastro.

Throughout, Seelagy was freezing, but alert. "He's lucky," Mastro said.

"They thought they were going to lose him. He was kind of turning blue."

More than a dozen ambulances were dispatched, and the rescuers were pulled out and sent to area hospitals, mostly for hypothermia.

State Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, (R-Sussex), said Seelagy was out all day hunting bear and deer with her husband, Morgan McHose. Late in the afternoon, the pair were separated when Seelagy became lost, but was able to stay in contact via cell phone.

After the rescue was over, Kistle, the Franklin police chief, described the icy swamp water as "shocking" cold.

"Ed (O'Rourke) and I were together and couldn't move him. He was in 3 or 4 feet" of water, Kistle said. "The poor guy's got to be hurting."

Kistle said that although he became submerged up to his chest during the ordeal, he did not end up having to go to a hospital.

Franklin Emergency Management Coordinator Phil Crabb said seven emergency personnel were taken by ambulances to local hospitals for exposure, including five Franklin firefighters, one Ogdensburg firefighter and one Wallkill Valley First Aid Squad member.

Crabb did not release the names of those seven. Thirteen ambulances from seven area first aid squads and Saint Clare's paramedics, as well as four fire departments, Franklin, Hardyston, Ogdensburg and Hamburg, responded.

The rescue effort took place behind the Weis Supermarket, which is off Route 23 in Franklin, where the Black Bear golf course abuts the woods.

The hunter was found in Hardyston, about 100 yards from the Franklin border.

Copyright 2003 The Star-Ledger

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