Senior hiker still missing
One person described the area inside and around the gated Preserve at Sharp Mountain subdivision of Pickens County as “just searched to death.”
And still not one clue to the whereabouts of Ben Thebaut, a 79-year-old retired surgeon, who left his home on Oct. 16 to go hiking and has not been seen since.
Last Saturday, the sheriff’s office coordinated a “big push” involving 110-120 trained volunteers from around the state, including 11 teams with search dogs, horseback groups and all manner of law enforcement agencies and first responders with search training. They already had used a helicopter with special heatsensing equipment and bloodhounds to comb the area off Salem Church Road in central Pickens County.
The searchers covered 800 acres, some more than once. During the past week, officers have searched from sunup to sundown every day with as many as 60 people in the field, covering between 1,700 to 1,800 acres.
Chris Tucker, a very fit young deputy, said Saturday he and other officers had logged about 20 miles on many of those days and it was beginning to take a toll.
“I am sick that we haven’t found him,” Tucker said. “We just don’t know where he could be and that’s the tough part.”
In areas near Thebaut’s home and other high-priority locations, different teams checked every day in case something was missed previously.
After Saturday’s “big push,” the sheriff’s office announced it was scaling back ground searches but would continue checking some areas and running down any leads that arise.
They will continue on the investigative end, though sheriff spokesman Kris Stancil said Monday they had not uncovered any evidence that Thebaut was anywhere besides in the woods around the home. Thebaut was reported to be very fit and a regular hiker who would go out for several hours at a time and could cover a lot of distance in the woods he was familiar with.
“There is no evidence at all to point to foul play,” Stancil said. “Nor is there any evidence that indicates he just left, which is not illegal.”
Thebaut took a handgun with him hiking, but his wife said it was not unusual for him to go armed.
The sheriff’s office said they have received no leads that Thebaut has been seen anywhere since the search began, but if any member of the public recalls seeing anyone matching the description on the flyer, they should call 706-253-8935.
Also, Stancil asked hunters, with deer season getting into full swing, to be on the lookout for anything suspicious in the woods surrounding the Preserve subdivision.