LAGRANGE, TN (abc24.com) - What began as a harmless cyber scavenger hunt led sheriff's deputies to conduct an intense search deep in the woods of rural Fayette County.
On Saturday, July 14, 17-year-old Cody Hanford and 29-year-old Justin Willingham were geocaching near the Wolf River when they got lost and spent two nights in the woods. Their loved ones were worried sick.
Caked in dirt and dogged by dehydration, Hanford and Willingham were rescued early Monday morning.
Hanford said he started getting concerned "when the sun came out [Sunday]… That's when we got in the swamp, we were all in the swamp, the tall grass and I'm still cut up from everything."
Dozens of friends and family members hoped and prayed the pair would be found. They weren't on the brink of desperation, they crossed it.
“I love you, you know me. I will fight and find you. We will do it. We'll find you and I will hug you,” said Cody's mother, Amy Hanford.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter searched by air as Fayette County Sheriff's deputies searched on the ground.
Hanford and Willingham were geocaching, which is an outdoor treasure hunt where people use GPS devices to find hidden containers.
Inspector Ray Garcia says they were bound to get lost doing that at night in an unfamiliar area.
“We've got a densely wooded area where even folks that are familiar with the area, local hunters, can easily get turned around and walk in circles for a great period of time,” Garcia said.
Good news came hours after sunrise.
“The first thing they said was, ‘Are you ready to go home?’ And I asked if they were ok and they said, ‘Yes he is ok, they are ok,’” Amy Hanford said.
Deputies were able to locate Hanford and Willingham with the help of a K9 named Cheyenne who picked up on the pair's scent.
“It's so wet back there and with it being wet, it freshens the scent and puts is everywhere when the blows and we got to a point where we decided we should start hollering for them, and they answered,” said Paula Weible of Search Dogs South.
“Right when I heard somebody scream back to me I was like, 'Thank you baby Jesus,” Cody Hanford said smiling.
Both Hanford and Willingham were taken to the hospital but are expected to be just fine. Neither have plans of doing any geocaching anytime soon.