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Crews Continue Searching for Missing Staunton Man - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Crews Continue Searching for Missing Staunton Man

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There are still no signs of a Staunton man missing in the mountains of western Augusta County.  Saturday, search teams continued to comb the woods around a trail where the hiker disappeared Monday.  That search of Shenandoah Mountain is currently on hold due to darkness.

Investigators believe 60-year-old Robert Ray Fitzgerald went back to the Confederate Breastworks Trail Monday to find a cellphone he dropped during a hike there Sunday.  Now, ground teams, tracking dogs and aircraft are involved in the search for Fitzgerald.

Police and volunteer search teams returned to the Shenandoah Mountain Saturday to try to track down Fitzgerald.  It was the third day of the search for the missing hiker from Staunton.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management started by trying to fit Fitzgerald into a profile in hopes that will lead searchers to answers.  They looked at statistics indicating where certain types of missing people have gone before.

Billy Chrimes, deputy search and rescue coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said, "When I say type I mean a hunter, a hiker, an Alzheimer's patient, a child - all those different categories."

Search teams on the ground used air scent dogs.  The dogs detect any human scent in the area, not the scent of a specific person.  Search members wore a GPS that keeps a history of which areas have been covered.

"They'll like to take that information and lay that on top of a map and think of it as like layers on a map that build it out to be able to see where we've been," said Matthew Dannemann with the Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Association.

But just because an area has been covered once, doesn't mean it isn't tracked again.

Dannemann said, "Yesterday there was one place where a dog got a little excited, so things like that, they'll focus maybe on those areas. The goal, the end goal is to take a big haystack and turn it into a much smaller haystack."

The teams are searching a span of 4,500 acres.  They are focusing in on specific areas of that mountainous search space.  They are looking in places a hiker would most likely travel through in hopes of finding Fitzgerald.

The group will continue the search again at 8:00 Sunday morning.  The sheriff asks people to avoid the search area because scents from additional people can slow the efforts of the tracking dogs.

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