09/16/04 — Search continues for missing student hiker

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Search continues for missing student hiker

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 16, 2004 1:58 PM

There has been a correction to this story:

A series of articles on a man from Goldsboro who is missing in western North Carolina gave an incorrect spelling of the name of a woman whose body was found. The correct spelling is Misty Dawn France.

September 21, 2004

The orginal story follows:

CULLOWHEE -- Rescu-ers continued searching in the woods of western North Carolina today for a missing Wayne County high school graduate.

Joel Esteppe, 19, was last seen when he was leaving the campus of Western Carolina University with another student. He and Misty Dawn Frances, 19, of Jacksonville told friends they were going hiking at Paradise Falls, a spillway that flows into Bear Creek Lake. They disappeared, and a search began the following day. The next morning, rescuers found the body of Ms. Frances near the waterfall.

Capt. Steve Lillard of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office said one boat was dispatched to a lake today and to do a visual search, although most of the rescue vehicles and personnel are being diverted to prepare for the approach of Hurricane Ivan.

About 20 people were doing water and land searches Wednesday. He said the lake's level has been lowered, which should help the search today. But officials expect the hurricane to cause flooding.

"The plan is to get the numbers back up close to 100 (rescue workers) after the storm," he said. "but now, we're preparing for flood evacuations and swift water rescues."

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the hearts of the entire university community are heavy at the news of the accident involving the two students.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of both students," he said. "I encourage the members of the campus community, especially those who know these young people, to pull together and support one another during this difficult time."

Bill Studenc, the senior director of news services at the university, said outdoor safety is a topic that is covered during summer orientation programs attended by new freshmen and transfer students before they come to Western.

With the threat of more rising water, he said, the university officials are cautioning students again about the dangers of the mountain waterways.

"Western North Carolina's river system can be very difficult and very dangerous, especially during periods of severe weather," he said.