Eddie Noonkester set out on a northbound thru-hike attempt of the Appalachian trail on Friday, but he never made it to Springer Mountain. Search teams from the Dawson County Sheriff's Office recovered Noonkester's body on Wednesday afternoon, just a mile off the approach trail to the AT, according to 11Alive.
Dawson County Fire and Emergency services posted on their Facebook page on Friday "[Eddie Noonkester] began a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on Friday. He has since become disoriented and may be suffering from a medical emergency. It is believed that he is on or near the AT approach trail somewhere in Dawson County, however it is also possible that he has wandered off the trail and surrounding National Forest or Park property." On Wednesday, the group posted that over 130 emergency personnel participated in the search, along with civilian volunteers.
According to the Gainesville Times, a friend of Noonkester's called 911 on Sunday, expressing concern for the hiker's health. Shortly after, Noonkester himself called 911 and "sounded confused," said Dawson County Fire Chief Danny Thompson in a press conference on Wednesday. While Noonkester did not have any known medical issues, he had a family history of dementia, Thompson said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Authorities initiated a search for the hiker on Sunday, and authorities located some of his belongings on Monday afternoon near the Len Foote Hike Inn, a backcountry lodge located just 5 miles from Springer Mountain.
The search was put on hold on Tuesday afternoon due to lightning, according to a Facebook post. Weather in the area dipped below freezing at night throughout the week.
The approach trail to the southern terminus of the AT is an 8.5-mile path that begins at Amicola Fall State Park. The US Forest Service description of the trail states that it features "several difficult climbs."
Noonkester would have been one of the first northbound thru-hikers to begin their journey's this season—most begin in mid- to late March. Roughly a quarter of thru-hikers who set out from Springer Mountain make it all the way to Maine.