Missing Geocachers Found Alive in Fayette County

They may be safe now but two American geocachers – one of whom starred in the hit 2005 film Walk The Line – rescued from a West Tennessee wildlife reserve have endangered the hides in that area.

Authorities say they are considering removing all geocaches from the Fayette County wildlife management area near LaGrange to prevent similar incidents happening in future.
According to local TV channel WREG Memphis, the pair were found about 8am on Monday by a search and rescue crew.

Cody Hanford, 17, and 29-year-old Justin Willingham were last seen at a wedding in Grand Junction on Saturday night before leaving the venue to go geocaching by the Wolf River in LaGrange.

Willingham, a radio host for WKNO, and Hanford, a child star who played a young Johnny Cash in the award-winning film Walk The Line, were using an iPhone to navigate to GZ. “It dropped in the water and we had no way back,” the actor said.

His mother, Amy Hanford, called the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office after she didn’t hear from her son on Sunday morning, “I couldn’t get a hold of him and I couldn’t get a hold of Justin.”

Dozens of family and friends gathered along Main St in LaGrange while search crews waited until daylight to look for the ill-prepared pair.

A Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter flew from nearby Nashville to search from above but it was a land-based team – including a Fayette County Deputy, and a dog from Search Dogs South – who located the men’s scent.

“We got to a point where we decided it was time to start hollering for them and they answered,” said Paulette Weible, of Search Dogs South.

After being brought out of the woods around 9.30am on Monday, the duo were taken to a local hospital to be treated for dehydration.

Inspector Ray Garcia, of Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, said people got lost in these woods about two or three times a year, “We have experienced hunters who come out here in the woods, they’ve lived out here their entire life and they get turned around and get lost for hours at a time themselves.”

However, his department is now keen to remove all geocaches placed along the Wolf River because of the dangerous terrain. “You’ve got poisonous snakes that are out there and the fact that there phones wouldn’t pick up in certain areas. You can’t get a GPS signal and the tree coverage is so thick out helicopters were having trouble spotting them.”


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  1. Nighthawk700

    If a few people per year die in car accidents, do they ban all the cars? Seems like an over kill reaction.

    1. kjwx

      Totally agree with you … And I bet they have no plans to ban hunting despite the sheriff’s mention of the odd “experienced hunter” getting lost each year.

      1. stegan

        And these guys only got lost. How about all the hunters that shoot each other each year?

  2. bladesdge

    Most geocachers have proper handheld waterproof GPS receivers that don’t rely on cellular coverage. Also carry backup batteries etc. The most common issue there is forgetting to mark a way point before leaving the car!

  3. Roy

    A GPS or an iPhone are useful aids to navigation, but shouldn’t be primary sources. If you’re that far off the beaten track you need to learn how to navigate off old-fashioned paper maps, folks.

  4. Larry Butler

    Knee jerk reactions by the Police etc etc. So they should ban all hiking in area since people get lost there all the time? Typical

  5. Nick Hudson on Facebook

    A predictable over-reaction. Something similar happened when a large branch fell from a tree after heavy winds. It narrowly missed (killing) a geocacher, and suddenly all geocaches in the area were threatened with extinction. Rather ridiculous when you consider it, as the area was and remains a public place. People are there on a daily basis, walking with or without dogs and/or children, and it is not the geocaches which bring the majority of people to the area. There was never any talk of stopping the public from enjoying the area – only trhe removal of geocaches.

  6. GSV

    Just re-reading this I wonder if Sherrif Ray Garcia thinks geocaching is purely an iPhone-based game; that may just explain his bizarre idea of archiving geocaches.

  7. NIck

    What are the GC codes of the caches they were looking for??

  8. stegan

    Looks like others have expressed my sentiments already. But heres my 2cents:

    If they had got lost looking for snakes would they remove all the snakes from the park?

    Personal responsibility…..it’s people who are stupid, not geocaches.

  9. cantuland

    I have sort of good news from the TWMA.

    It started with the news clip from Channel 3 where Ray Garcia announced something that someone else told him, but that last part didn’t make it in the news and he started getting angry emails.

    Then the link was on Jeremy Irish’s facebook page and the news spread like wildfire. I got involved then. I was one of the flood that also sent more angry emails to Ray Garcia. As some of the posts below have indicated, Ray Garcia was trying to tell the caching community that the statement didn’t come from his office. I wanted to know more. I sent more emails inquiring about it.

    Ray Garcia asked me to talk to Lindsey Brown about the issue to help get the flood of emails rerouted. Then came the news from Channel 5. We cachers know that it is not geocachERS.com and I am not THE spokesman, nor am I THE geocacher. I’m just the guy who kept bugging people.

    I called the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. We spoke and exchanged emails about the matter. This is their official statement…

    I am the West Tennessee (Region 1) Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) supervisor over the wildlife programs, including Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). TWRA does not specifically prohibit geocaching on our WMAs, however there are certain times of the year when only permitted hunters are allowed on the WMA, such as quota deer and turkey hunts. It would be a good idea if those putting out geocaches would give the WMA manager a courtesy call, so the manager will be able to advise the geocacher of certain restrictions.

    Our TWRA WMA rules state: Rule 1660-01-14-.13

    (K) The following shall apply to abandoned and unattended property:

    1. Abandonment of any vehicle or other personal property is prohibited and such property may be impounded by the Area Manager or an authorized person.

    2. Leaving any vehicle or other personal property unattended for longer than 24 hours, without prior permission of the Area manager or other authorized person, is prohibited and any property so left may be impounded by the Area Manager or an authorized person, and may be disposed of according to state procedures. In the event unattended property interferes with a safe and orderly management of the area, it may be impounded at any time.

    The TWRA hunting seasons and dates, as well as WMA Managers phone numbers and WMA Special Regulations, can be found at http://www.tnwildlife.org .

    If I can be of further assistance, please give me a call.
    Thanks, Jim

    Jim Hamlington
    TWRA Region I
    Wildlife Program Manager
    200 Lowell Thomas Drive
    Jackson, Tn. 38301
    Office 731-423-5730
    Cell 731-293-9571
    Fax 731-423-6483

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