About 30 people are now involved in the search for Derek Joseph Leuking, 24, of Louisville, Tenn. who has been missing since Thursday, March 15. Leuking’s car was found on Saturday morning, March 17, at the Newfound Gap Parking Area on the TN/NC State line in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Saturday and Sunday Rangers hiked over 40 miles of trails that radiate out from Newfound Gap, looking for signs of Leuking and interviewing hikers they encountered to see if anybody had met him, but without success.
Search managers now believe that, if he is in the Park, he is off-trail. Three search dog teams are combing the woods along the Appalachian Trail and along an old, abandoned section of U.S. 441 that leaves the Parking Lot southbound. A Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter is assigned to cover the area from the air.
In addition to personnel from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are now searchers from the Blue Ridge Parkway engaged in the search. Cherokee Tribal EMS has a unit on-scene. Two dog teams came from the North Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association and the third came from the South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Assn.
Rangers have also considered that Leuking may have left the Park and are asking anybody who may have seen him since Saturday to contact the Park at (865) 436-1230.