Hiker from Springfield, Mo. dies after fall along the Buffalo National River

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 1:42 PM CDT|Updated: May. 10, 2022 at 6:31 AM CDT
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JASPER, Ark. – A hiker from Springfield, Mo., died from a fall in the Indian Creek drainage of the Buffalo National River.

Brad Thomas, 46, died in the fall.

Rangers say they were dispatched Saturday afternoon for a hiker who fell near the Eye of the Needle in the Ponca Wilderness area. The rangers say Thomas fell 20 feet. Emergency crews tried to revive Thomas.

The National Park Service thanked the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, Mennonite Disaster Service, BUFFSAR volunteers, Arkansas National Guard, Harrison Fire Department, Newton County Office of Emergency Management, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, and the Newton County Baptist Church for their assistance during this incident.

Newton County Sheriff Glen Wheeler said the man was part of a group being led by a man from Bentonville, Arkansas, who was discovered to be operating a guide service without a license or insurance. This was not the first incident the illegal guide had been involved in recently.

“This man brings people to the Buffalo River and other parts of Newton County and takes them into some of the most rugged terrain in the Ozarks. It appears they don’t always know what they are getting into,” said Sheriff Wheeler. “Just last Saturday, a person he was leading was injured, and he left her in the woods. We responded with a full rescue team who put themselves in jeopardy to help her, just like they did with Mr. Thomas. They do it because they love it and have servants’ hearts. But, none of that never would have been necessary if this man had not led them into areas that were possibly beyond their preparation levels. Then to leave an injured ‘client’ is just absurd!”

Rangers have responded to multiple hiking accidents in the Indian Creek drainage over the past month. This undeveloped backcountry area includes extremely technical, loose, slippery footing, and steep terrain. Even the most experienced hiker is susceptible to injury. Hikers should be equipped for self-rescue, as an emergency response can take several hours at this location.

Family of Brad Thomas described him as a family man.

“Brad really followed in our dad’s footsteps on being a really good father to his boys,” said his brother David. “He meant everything to them.”

Brad Thomas’ brother David Thomas said his brother was loyal, loving, and caring.

“The biggest thing is how much he loved his sons, his three sons,” he said. “They meant everything to him. And he’s always wanted to no matter what was going on, make sure that they were taken care of.”

His brother also said he was always willing to help others, even strangers on the trail.

“That’s his best personality,” David Thomas said. “He sees someone with a need, and he wants to do something to help them.”

Now Thomas’ family hope sharing his story can help keep others safe.

“If someone can hear this, and think of it and be more careful so they don’t leave three kids without a dad, then maybe something good can come from this.”

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