Search continues for missing hiker in Great Smokies

Search continues for missing hiker in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Derek Lueking (source: National Park Service) Derek Lueking (source: National Park Service)

6 News Reporter

GATLINBURG (WATE) - The search continues for a missing hiker in the Smokies. Derek Lueking, 24, of Louisville, was reported missing on Thursday.

Lueking's white Ford Escape was found at the Newfound Gap parking area, on the Tennessee/North Carolina boarder, on Saturday.

Park officials believe Lueking is still in the park. They have centered their search around the Newfound Gap parking area where his vehicle was found.

Tuesday's rain hampered search efforts, causing search crews to come in an hour early.

"The terrain is actually very rough," said U.S. Park Ranger Tabby Cavendish. "We are not staying on trails. Most of the search is going off trail and that's mainly because we have a lot of hikers and stuff who are on trail to tell us whether they seen him."

Search crews have already covered a 50-mile area. They have used 30 searchers, three tracking dog teams and a helicopter to try to locate Lueking.

Lueking's family has been out every day helping with the search.  "What we've been doing is handing out fliers, talking to any of the long term hikers who are out here," said Tim Lueking, Derek's father. "We don't let anyone with a backpack get past us."

They have also posted Derek's photo at all the trail heads in the area.

Derek's father is worried about his son's mind set. He says he had recently been looking at wilderness survival material. When they found his vehicle, the keys had been locked inside with a note on top of them that said, "Don't look for me."

"It's not odd for him to go hiking," Tim Lueking said. "It's odd for him to skip work for three days and not tell anybody, and not be in any contact with his friends."

They hope everyone who comes to this part of the park will be on the lookout for him.

"We are trying to find hikers who are going to different places," Tim Lueking said. "If you know of anybody that's coming up here and going backwoods hiking or hitting the trail, please take a look at Derek's picture and keep an eye out for him."

Search crews plan to resume the search Wednesday morning.

"If he's not in the park, which honestly we believe he is still here or we wouldn't be here, but if he is outside the park, Derek please, please call us, you're driving us crazy," said Lueking."We need to hear from you."

Derek Lueking is described as being 5'11", 220 pounds, with short brown hair, and a short beard. He was last seen wearing black track pants and white tennis shoes. He has a tattoo on the left side of his chest of the Japanese word for life.

If you have seen Derek Lueking or have any information about his whereabouts, call park rangers at 865-215-2243.

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