The multi-agency search for a Appalachian Trail hiker that
went missing in Dawson County late last week is now continuing into a third
day, authorities say.
During a press conference on Tuesday morning, Dawson County Fire Chief Danny Thompson announced that the search for Eddie Noonkester, a North Carolina man that embarked on the Appalachian Trail on Friday, Feb. 14, will continue today, with multiple agencies searching the trail in Dawson County and the surrounding areas.
According to Thompson, the search for Noonkester began on Sunday after Dawson County authorities received a call expressing concern for Noonkester’s health.
Around 11:20 a.m. on Sunday shortly after the call, Noonkester himself called the Dawson County 911 and was interviewed by an on-duty battalion chief, Thompson said.
“In speaking with Eddie, it did appear that he sounded confused initially,” Thompson said.
Authorities believe that Noonkester became disoriented and may be suffering from a medical emergency.
“We’ve spoken to the family. He doesn’t have any known medical issues but he does have a family history of dementia,” Thompson said. “Family and friends have shared some information with us that they feel he may have been over the last several months exhibiting some signs or symptoms of early onset (dementia) however please understand that has not been diagnosed.”
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 Len Foote Hike Inn located some of Noonkester’s personal belongings near the Hike Inn trail.
The items have since been verified by Noonkester’s family members, Thompson said.
Efforts to find Noonkester continued into 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.
On Tuesday, Thompson said Dawson County Emergency Services has called in the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to assist in the search.
“Today, we have called in the assistance of GEMA, numerous law enforcement agencies, DNR, Dawson County Sheriff’s department, park staff here, numerous fire departments… Gilmer County, Union County, Fannin County are represented today,” Thompson said.
At least 50 people from multiple state and local agencies are currently active in the search.
“Right now our focus is a grid area of what’s called the Approach Trail down High Shoals Road which is a service road that leads over to the Len Foote Hike Inn and then the Len Foote Hike Inn trail back down towards the visitor’s center and Cochran Falls,” Thompson said. “The search area where we’re looking for Mr. Noonkester is a very, very treacherous area. Terrain is very, very difficult and couple that with the heavy downpours that we’ve had throughout the day and will continue to have over the next 72 hours, we’re going to continue to push for this search of Eddie and hope for a positive outcome.”
Thompson said that those wishing to volunteer in the search efforts may do so by contacting the official search and rescue volunteer email, DCSAR@dawsoncounty.org.
“What we’re asking the volunteers, when you email into that address, leave your name, contact telephone number, your availability and your experience level of hiking,” Thompson said.
A BOLO is still issued for Noonkester. He is an approximately 60 year old white male, standing at 5’10’’ and weighing approximately 200 pounds with gray hair and gray goatee.
Authorities ask that if you see someone matching Noonkester’s description to call the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office’s nonemergency number (706) 344-3636.
“Our priority is to try to find him in these next 48 hours,” Thompson said. “We have a high focus of trying to locate him as quickly as we can.”