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Dawson County authorities discover missing hiker's body
Eddie Noonkester
Eddie Noonkester. Photos courtesy Dawson County Emergency Services.

Update, Feb. 19: 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, near the Len Foote Hike Inn.

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 the Dawson County 911 and was interviewed by an on-duty battalion chief, according to Thompson. 

“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 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.  

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. 


Original story: The multi-agency search for an Appalachian Trail hiker who went missing in Dawson County late last week is now continuing into a third day, authorities said Tuesday, Feb. 18.

During a press conference on Tuesday morning, Dawson County Fire Chief Danny Thompson announced that the search for Eddie Noonkester, a North Carolina man who embarked on the Appalachian Trail on Friday, Feb. 14, will continue, 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. Sunday shortly after the call, Noonkester himself called 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. 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 K-9 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 searching.

“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 man, standing at 5-feet and 10-inches tall and  weighing approximately 200 pounds with gray hair and a 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.”

This story originally appeared at The Times' sister publication, dawsonnews.com

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