Missing hiker was fan of survival TV, family says
By J.J. KINDRED | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
NEWFOUND GAP — Derek Joseph Lueking, the 24-year-old Louisville man who has been missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since Thursday, was a fan of a survival TV show and may have brought wilderness gear with him, family members said Tuesday.
Lueking’s father and sister came down from Manassas, Va., about 30 miles from Washington, D.C., to the Newfound Gap parking area on the Tennessee-North Carolina line, where his vehicle was found last Saturday.
Along with volunteers, they sent up a tent to hand out flyers with his picture on them and present information about Lueking with hopes that someone has seen him.
“We have more people looking and more that are coming up here,” said Lueking’s father, Tim.
He said that they found his vehicle, a white Ford Escape, at Newfound Gap at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and were concerned that he didn’t show up for work for three days straight, and made the decision to report him missing.
“He didn’t call and tell us anything,” Tim Lueking said. “He didn’t go to work the second day, and that’s when we called looking for him. We don’t know where he went. He could have hiked to Gatlinburg and could have been a happy camper, but he left his wallet and credit cards in his truck.”
“There have been tons of people on the trails, and no one has seen him,” said Kim Jackson, Derek’s sister. “He didn’t bring a tent or sleeping bag.”
‘Man vs. Wild’
Tim Lueking said his son was a fan of the show, “Man vs. Wild,” and could have possibly brought a survival book, ax, knife and fishing gear with him.
“There’s plenty of water here,” he said.
Lueking, a Northern Virginia native, is a graduate of Johnson University (formerly Johnson Bible College) in Knoxville and works as an orderly for Peninsula Behavioral Health Center.
His sister said a “Find Derek Lueking” page on Facebook was being created.
The family pleaded with anyone visiting the Newfound Gap area to contact the Park if they have any information regarding Derek’s whereabouts. The emergency number is 865-436-9171.
“If there are serious hikers out there and there’s a chance he has hiked out, please tell us,” Tim Lueking said. “Any news is what we need. But we don’t want people looking for him and then have to look for them.”
Park increases search
About 30 people were involved Monday in the search, and that number has increased slightly, with more volunteers and now family and friends of Lueking involved.
Concentration points included Chimney Tops, Alum Cave Bluffs, Mount LeConte, Kephart, the Cumberland Gap area and the Blue Ridge Parkway. At least four search dog teams have been sniffing the trails, including the Appalachian Trail, and there are other teams that have come from the North Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association and the South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association.
Helicopter teams from the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the North Carolina Highway Patrol have also contributed to the search.
Park rangers have hiked about 70 miles of trails that radiate out from Newfound Gap, looking for signs of Lueking and interviewing hikers they encountered to see if anybody had met him, but with no success. They have carried GPS units with them, and the search teams have also been looking in drainages off trail.
“It’s a pretty long hike, and anyone can become fatigued,” said Molly Schroer, Park spokeswoman. “They’ve been covering a lot of tracks. Being in the air can provide some insight, but there are safety issues with helicopters.”
Lueking was reportedly last seen at 4 a.m. last Saturday at the Microtel Inn in Cherokee, N.C. He was believed to have been carrying a dark-colored daypack.
He is described as a white male, 5 feet 11 inches tall, 220 pounds with short brown hair and a short beard, and is believed to be wearing black track pants, white tennis shoes and may have had a Realtree camouflage rain suit. He also has a tattoo on the left side of his chest that reads the word “life” in Japanese.
Schroer said that the search will continue for the next few days, depending on what is found.
“We won’t know how long to continue until we get feedback from the teams,” Schroer said. “Hopefully, he would be here in the next 10 minutes. Everyone here is pretty determined to find him. Things like this are why we are Park rangers.”