With no trails to follow and no clues to act upon, rangers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are scaling back searches for two men thought to be missing in the park.
While a limited search for Derek Lueking and Michael Cocchini will continue, full-scale searches have ended, park officials say.
The two men, both from Tennessee, disappeared in separate instances. In the case of Mr. Lueking, he was reported missing by family and friends on March 15, and his vehicle was found at the Newfound Gap Parking Area on Saturday.
As for Mr. Cocchini, he was last seen by friends at the Walmart in Sevierville, Tennessee, at about 2 p.m. on Sunday. Rangers became suspicious Tuesday afternoon when they noticed that a vehicle had been parked since Sunday at a quiet walkway along Newfound Gap Road approximately 1 mile south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center
At one point as many as 60 searchers were involved in looking for the two men this past week. Without any concrete leads to pursue, search managers have concluded that it is no longer productive to continue efforts to the degree that they have been in conducted. The park will continue the search, but at a much reduced level.
A handful of searchers was to head back out into the woods Saturday to complete the search of a couple of areas that were scheduled to be covered on Friday, but could not be covered due to deteriorating weather and accompanying safety concerns.
The intelligence gathering portion of the investigation will continue and rangers will be available to follow up on any leads or reports of sightings that may surface either inside the park or beyond its boundaries. The park will also continue to disseminate information about the missing individuals at trailheads and high-traffic areas.
“Each year the Smokies conducts searches or rescues for up to 100 individuals, and virtually all these missions come to a satisfactory conclusion," said Great Smoky Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "It is very disheartening for the searchers to work so hard for so long to find a missing individual without success. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of Derek Lueking and Michael Cocchini.”