Authorities say that the body of missing Appalachian Trail hiker Eddie Noonkester was recovered by searchers late Wednesday afternoon.
At a press conference held in Amicalola Falls State Park on Wednesday evening, Dawson County Fire Chief Danny Thompson reported that Noonkester's body was discovered at about 2:30 p.m. in a rugged, inaccessible area of the park, approximately one mile south of the "Hike-in Trail".
Thompson said that Noonkester‘s body has been taken to the GBI Crime Lab for further analysis. But according to Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson, there have so far been no indications of foul play with the death.
Until results return from the state crime lab, Thompson said that they will not be speculating on what occurred or the circumstances that led to Noonkester's death.
Noonkester, a resident of North Carolina, started hiking the Appalachian Trail on Friday, Feb. 14, and went missing shortly after a series of phone calls were made to Dawson County authorities over the weekend.
On Sunday, Dawson County authorities received a call from a friend of Noonkester, expressing concern for the hiker's health. Shortly after that call, Noonkester himself called Dawson County 911 and was interviewed by an on-duty battalion chief, Thompson said at a prior press conference.
“In speaking with Eddie, it did appear that he sounded confused initially,” Thompson said.
Following the interview with Noonkester, authorities mobilized a search, but were unable to find any sign of the hiker until approximately 1 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17, when staff of the Len Foote Hike Inn located some of Noonkester’s personal belongings near the Hike Inn trail.
Efforts to find Noonkester continued through Monday night with six K9 teams searching a large grid area around the Approach Trail in Amicalola Falls State Park, and on through Tuesday morning until the weather deteriorated.
The search was suspended on Tuesday night due to weather conditions, but resumed on Wednesday with more than 130 searchers and additional resources from north Georgia agencies.
Searchers were pelted with heavy rain, wind and frigid temperatures throughout the four days, Thompson said.
"I want to take this time to thank the numerous agencies that supported this multi-day, multi-jurisdictional operation, we could not have done this without the numerous partners here this evening." he said.
Following Thompson's address to the media, Noonkester's brother, Wesley Noonkester, spoke several heartfelt words of thanks to the authorities that had searched for his brother.
"There were so many people who were out here in the cold and the rain, that put their own lives in jeopardy to find my brother," Noonkester said. "It's not the outcome that I'd hoped for but at the end of the day our goal was to bring Eddie home and we were able to do that."
"I cannot begin to describe how much compassion each and every person has shown to me and my family during this difficult time, there's lots of bad in this world but theres a lot of good in it too," he added. "I just know tonight when I lay down that my brother is in a better place."
As peak season for hikers setting out on the Appalachian Trail rapidly approaches, Thompson had several words of advice for future hikers: Be prepared, be careful, plan your resources carefully and make sure you are communicating with friends or family.
"Those thing are all critical, because the terrain here is not forgiving, mother nature is not forgiving," he said.