Remains believed to be those of missing hiker Geraldine Largay were found Wednesday in a wooded area two or three miles from where she was last seen in July 2013, authorities said Friday.

It’s an area that’s “nothing special,” but tough to make your way through because of dense forest debris, according to Lt. Kevin Adam, of the Maine Warden Service.

It’s so tough, in fact, that three dog searches were all the warden service could do in that area because there weren’t enough physically fit volunteers for a ground search. One of those dog search crews came within 100 yards of where the skeletal remains were found, Adam said.

The remains were found Wednesday by a forester doing an enviromental survey for the U.S. Navy, which owns the property. While the remains haven’t been officially identified, Adam said authorities are confident because of the location and belongings found that it is Largay.

The state medical examiner’s office will examine the remains, and an official identification and cause of death are expected in the coming weeks. Adam said Friday no foul play is suspected, though he said that could change, depending on the medical examiner’s report.

EXTENSIVE SEARCHES

Largay, 66, of Brentwood, Tennessee, was last seen alive on July 22, 2013, at the Poplar Ridge lean-to. A trail thru-hiker, she was less than 200 miles from completing the 900-plus mile second half of the trail that she began in West Virginia months earlier. She was scheduled to meet her husband, George Largay, on July 23 in Wyman Township to pick up food and supplies, but she never arrived.

She was reported missing July 24, spurring an extensive search and an enduring mystery.

Her disappearance has puzzled searchers and attracted national news media attention. Warden Service officials on Friday called it “one of Maine’s most unique and challenging search-and-rescue incidents.”

The Largay family is not speaking publicly about the discovery, according to the Warden Service, but did express gratitude to all the searchers and investigators who worked on the search. David Fox, a friend of the family who in the past has acted as a spokesman, did not return calls for comment Friday.

During a news conference Friday at the Department of Public Safety in Augusta, Adam said authorities had been waiting for a resolution for a long time.

“It’s a happy-sad day,” Adam said. “Happy because we found her, but it’s also a sad day for the family with the realization that their loved one is deceased.”

Redington Township is roughly between Rangeley and Carrabassett Valley, a little more than halfway through Maine’s 282 miles of Appalachian Trail.

Search efforts over the last two years covered a roughly 23-mile area between the lean-to where Largay was last seen and the interesection of the trail and Route 27 in Wyman Township, where she was to meet her husband.

The search for Largay was scaled back in August 2013, but the warden service has continued to look for her over the last two years. Periodic searches have gone on in the area, including last month, when a third dog team searched the area near where the remains were found Wednesday.

The area where Largay’s remains were found — about 3,000 yards from the Appalachian Trail — is wooded and has terrain that is difficult to traverse, for both hikers and searchers.

“Why didn’t they locate her? We don’t know at this time,” Adam said of the dog crews that came close to the remains. “It’s a team; it’s one of our resources.

“We typically like to run grid searches behind the K-9s, but because of the terrain, because we didn’t have enough trained, physically fit people, we couldn’t do that in a lot of cases.

“You can be walking along and fall into a hole up to your waist,” he added, because there is decades of forest debris covering the land. Adam said they were “very lucky” none of the searchers was hurt.

RESTRICTED AREA

The Navy has a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School connected with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on 12,500 acres — or 19.5 square miles — in 42-square-mile Redington Township. The spot where Largay’s remains were found was not far inside the Navy property.

Adam said Friday that the Navy land is clearly marked as being off limits and is fenced off in some sections, though not in the remote area that Largay apparently wandered into.

Special agents with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, became involved when the remains were found Wednesday. Navy officials were “very helpful” in allowing searches on the federal land and offering their knowledge of the surrounding terrain, Adam said.

Stacey Vorous, who owns The Farmhouse, a hostel in Rangeley that is popular with AT hikers, said the Navy is vigilant about trespassers.

“No one is allowed on that property,” she said. “They’re really protective of that area. Hikers that wander there usually get escorted off and driven 20 miles away, whether they just want to jump back on the trail or not.”

There was torrential day and night-long rain the day after Largay was last seen, and concerns at the time were she was turned around on the trail, or had difficulty at the Carrabassett River crossing beyond where she was last seen.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy calls Maine “the AT’s most challenging rugged and remote state.”

Much of the surrounding area, including that leading up to the Poplar Ridge lean-to, is notoriously rugged and tough to hike in, said Bill Meyerhofer, a registered Maine Guide who grew up in the area and helped with the search in 2013.

“That’s probably some of the roughest terrain there is,” Meyerhofer said. The surrounding mountains have thick woods and steep rocky cliffs, and it only takes a few missteps to get hurt or disoriented, he said.

“You can get turned around in there in a heartbeat,” Meyerhofer said.

HIKING PERILS

Trail hikers Friday said they wondered how she could get that far off the trail, then not get back.

“It’s just trail,” said Zach Cherry, 29, a thru-hiker from Georgia resting at The Farmhouse hostel in Rangeley. “There’s nothing weird.”

Andrea Deyling, 41, another thru-hiker at The Farmhouse, said, “The trail is well marked and there’s nothing different about this section from the other 2,000 miles, and it’s surprising. You wouldn’t think of something like this happening.”

But Cherry said the weather could have made a difference.

“I will say this: The direction she was going, she came over Saddleback, which is a pretty big mountain, and there’s exposed ridge line for 1.4 miles. The backside is steep, and if there were bad weather or she was in bad shape or hypothermic, that could explain why she was found not on the trail and was somewhere else, maybe trying to get help.”

Crime reported on the Appalachian Trail in Maine is rare, and according to the Warden Service, 98 percent of hikers reported missing are found within 24 hours.

George Largay had followed his wife along the way, meeting her at crossroads to replenish his wife’s supplies, and has said in interviews that the trek was a lifelong dream.

She had hiked the first half of the trail, from Georgia to West Virginia, previously. She was called Gerry by family and known by the trail name was Inchworm.

“She loved camping. She loved outdoors,” George Largay said in an interview with The Tennessean newspaper. “The ultimate hike for someone who really loves hiking as she does is the Appalachian Trail.”

The Largay family had offered a $25,000 reward for information that would lead to finding Largay. Adam, of the warden service, said authorities would give the name of the forester who found the remains to the Largay family, and they would decide about the reward money.

Adam said the case’s outcome this week was in line with what the Warden Service expected.

“We felt all along that she somewhere got off the trail,” he said. “She was in a remote wooded area and we just needed to get the right resource in there.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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