knoxville news
knoxville news knoxville daily sun lifestyle business knoxville sports travel knoxville classifieds knoxville jobs knoxville legal notices knoxville yellow pages smoky mountains contact facebook twitter linkedin rss entertainment knoxville advertising

6:02 p.m. March 23, 2012
Search scaled back for missing men in Smoky Mountains

volunteer tent
Volunteer tent at Newfound Gap. Image by Jeaneane Payne

GATLINBURG, Tn -- Approximately 60 searchers, 3 tracking dog teams and a helicopter have been used to search for Derek Joseph Leuking who was reported as missing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on March 15 and for Michael Giovanni Cocchini who has been missing in the Park since Sunday, March 18.

ems command unit
EMS vehicles and personnel were donated by the Cherokee Indian Reservation to assist in the rescue operation. Images by Jeaneane Payne

Rangers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have begun scaling back the search for both missing individuals. Search managers have not found any single clue, beyond the subjects' vehicles, that they can conclusively tie to either man. Without any concrete leads to pursue, search managers have concluded that it is no longer productive to continue efforts to the degree that they have been in conducted. The Park will continue the search, but at a much reduced level.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent, Dale Ditmanson said, "Each year the Smokies conducts searches or rescues for up to 100 individuals, and virtually all these missions come to a satisfactory conclusion. It is very disheartening for the searchers to work so hard for so long to find a missing individual without success. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of Derek Lueking and Michael Cocchini."

A handful of searchers will go back out into the woods Saturday to complete the search of a couple of areas that were scheduled to be covered on Friday, but could not be covered due to deteriorating weather and accompanying safety concerns.

meal tent
A shelter was set up to serve meals to Park volunteers. Image by Jeaneane Payne

The intelligence gathering portion of the investigation will continue and Rangers will be available to follow up on any leads or reports of sightings that may surface either inside the Park or beyond its boundaries.

The Park will also continue to disseminate information about the missing individuals at trailheads and high-traffic areas in hopes that one of the many Spring Breaker visitors who will be in the Park will come upon a clue or see one of the subjects.

All of the Park's front and backcountry personnel will remain on the alert for any new signs of these individuals in coming weeks.

volunteer tent
Derek Leuking's family. Left is Ben Jackson, brother-in-law; center is Derek's father, Tim Leuking; right is Don Sampson, uncle. Image by Jeaneane Payne

Leuking's vehicle was found on Saturday, March 17 at 8:30 a.m. in the Newfound Gap parking area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tim Leuking, Derek's father, indicated that Derek had checked into the Microtel Inn in Cherokee, NC on Friday but checked out at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday. He also said there was speculation as to whether Derek may have spent the previous night at Smokemont Campground in the National Park. "He filled out a registration form; however, since it is self-registration, no one can confirm if he was actually there overnight," said Tim. "He also filled out an overnight backcountry camping registration form and dropped it in one of the drop boxes in the Park." He also stated that it was highly unusual for Derek to skip work.

"We drove along Highway 441 and discovered Derek's white Ford Explorer around 8:30 a.m. at the Newfound Gap parking area." A note found in the vehicle stated "Don't try to find me." Tim Leuking said Derek had purchased several Park maps, but they were still in his vehicle along with his wallet and credit cards and receipts for the purchase of a tent and sleeping bag.

Park trackers and search dog teams followed up on a couple of potential clues they hoped would help determine Leuking's route after leaving his vehicle.

A helicopter from the North Carolina Highway Patrol surveyed the areas along Newfound Gap Road and some of the trails that are accessed from the Newfound Gap Trailhead.

Search personnel were posted at some of the popular trailheads such as Alum Cave, Chimney Tops, Sugarlands Visitor Center and Clingmans Dome.

Black Diamond Search And Rescue Council in Virginia volunteered their services in the search for Leuking. The Council provides specially trained professionals to find lost or missing people in wilderness, rural or disaster environments. They train and employ ground teams, trackers, search management teams, K9 Wilderness Live find and K9 Cadaver in a wide variety of environments and weather conditions, including farmland, wilderness, and urban areas. They deploy their resources when requested throughout Virginia and adjacent States when requested.

Leuking's family has been at Newfound Gap the last week passing out fliers to anyone who might have seen their family member.

Officials asked that anyone who might have seen Leuking inside the park or elsewhere call 865-436-1230.

Published March 23, 2012

Previous Stories:
Search on for 2nd missing person in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
• Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service searching for missing person
Search party looking for man missing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Share |

Subscribe to Knoxville Daily Sun

knoxville daily sun Knoxville Daily Sun
2011 Image Builders
User Agreement | Privacy Policy
knoxville news business knoxville real estate knoxville sports knoxville jobs travel knoxville automotive knoxville lifestyle knoxville entertainment shopping religion volunteer money email alerts knoxville daily sun knoxville weather education opinion tickets yellow pages smoky mountains daily sun facebook twitter rss reed knoxville health home and garden knoxville