A second search-and-rescue mission in the past week has been initiated at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where a 23-year-old man is thought to have vanished in the park not far from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Rangers have been searching since the weekend for 24-year-old Derek Leuking, of Louisville, Tennessee. He was reported missing by family and friends on March 15, and his vehicle was found at the Newfound Gap Parking Area on Saturday.
The latest search is for Michael Giovanni Cocchini, a Nashville, Tennessee, man who has been staying temporary in Gatlinburg just outside the park, officials said today.
Mr. Cocchini was last seen by friends at the Walmart in Sevierville 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.
The walkway does not connect to the park’s trail system, so there would be no reason that backpackers would leave vehicles there overnight, park spokesman Bob Miller said. The walkway is a short, easy, trail that extends into the woods a short distance off the road and then dead-ends at the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
Rangers began looking for Mr. Cocchini about 4 p.m. on Tuesday. A small group of rangers and a tracking dog conducted a quick search of the trail and a portion of the riverbank, but did not pick up any definite signs of the man.
This morning the search was to expand with the help of eight Tennessee State Department of Corrections officers and Tennessee State dog team.
Mr. Cocchini was described as 6 feet tall, weighing 160 pound, and with short black hair and a scruffy beard. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt and gray or silver tennis shoes with blue stripes. Mr. Cocchini was not known to be a hiker and had no gear for hiking or overnight camping, Mr. Miller said.
Anybody who has seen Mr. Cocchini since Sunday afternoon is asked to call the park at (865) 436-1230.
Meanwhile, the search for Mr. Leuking has involved 30 searchers, three tracking dog teams, and a helicopter crew, but no signs of the man have turned up.