It has been almost three weeks since Esther Dingley disappeared in the Pyrenees at the Franco-Spanish border, and police in both countries admit they are no closer to finding her.
The frustration of the French Gendarmerie Captain Jean-Parc Bordinaro was palpable. “Normally, at the beginning of an investigation, we have something to go on, but we have nothing,” he said by phone. “Absolutely nothing.”
Was it possible that the British hiker had an accident on the mountain? Did you know someone who had hurt you? Had he chosen to disappear? Bordinaro said nothing was ruled out, but so far he had no answers.
“We have searched a very large area, 28 square kilometers in total, with specialized mountain teams, with dogs, with helicopters along the route that he said he was taking and there is nothing. It is not a particularly difficult route and by the time she was on the mountain the weather was good, “he said.
“If you deviated from your itinerary and went off track, you could have had an accident, fell into a crevasse, and if that’s the case …” He paused. “With snow we may not know until spring.”
For six years, Dingley, 37, and his partner, Dan Colegate, 38, have been living the adventure of a lifetime, hiking in Europe. The couple, who have been together for 18 years, left good jobs and their home in Durham to hit the road in a trailer after Colegate nearly died after surgery, three weeks before they were married.
They have entertained friends, family and random strangers with stories from their travels on their blog, EstherandDan.com, a Facebook page and in books. Recently, five dogs joined them on their travels.
Dingley was last seen on November 22 in the Luchonnais region of southwestern France. He had gone on a solo hike for a month while Colegate stayed in the Gers in southwestern France, tending a farm.
“We realized that during the coronavirus we had not been separated from each other for a year, so we decided to do our thing for a while. All of this has been very good for us individually and for our relationship; we are really happy now, “Dingley told the BBC days before his disappearance.
On November 15, Dingley wrote on the couple’s Facebook page that they were in Benasque, Spain. “This opportunity for me was the opportunity to go some time on my own in the mountains… grateful for the fact that it is a very warm November and a route directly from the caravan. [van] up to an incredible 2800 + m peak … Mixture of hiking and trail running to clear your mind … ”he wrote.
On November 19, Dingley said she was forced to change her plans due to bad weather and that she had agreed to have another hiker take her back to her trailer, who police have yet to identify.
Dingley parked the truck in Benasque on Nov. 21 and planned to stay at a mountain shelter Sunday night, but police said there were no signs he had made it there. He contacted Colegate on WhatsApp the next day to tell him he was at Pic de Sauvegarde, a 2,738-meter range that straddles the Franco-Spanish border.
That was his last known communication.
Within a minute, the fitness fanatic who described herself as someone who “loves to think of crazy ideas that turn into our greatest adventures” was posting selfies from the top of a mountain in the middle of spectacular scenery. The next he was gone without a trace.
Colegate, who says his partner used to be out of touch when he walked, raised the alarm three days later when an immediate search was launched.
Since then, the French and Spanish police have been forced to suspend their searches due to bad weather. They both say they are now looking for other possibilities. In France, a judicial investigation has been opened.
“It is complicated because we do not have any element of evidence and that means that no hypothesis can be ruled out,” Bordinaro said. “We don’t know if he fell, met someone with bad intentions or voluntarily disappeared. We don’t even know if he was in France. “
It is the same story on the Spanish side. The Spanish Civil Guard told The Guardian that there had been no news but that all possibilities were being considered. “The search for the missing person continues and all possibilities remain open until they are found,” said a spokesman.
Dingley’s aunt, Elizabeth Wolsey Morgan, previously told the Mirror that her niece was “a strong girl and the thing is, the more it happens, you wonder if she’s been kidnapped,” adding, “I feel so helpless. There is really nothing to continue on, nothing concrete. If she had had an accident, they probably would have found her. It is terrible to wait for news. I feel like I’m living a nightmare, waiting to wake up. “
Retired teacher Kim Prior of Hilgay in Norfolk, who illustrated a series of children’s books the couple wrote about their five dogs, described Dingley as “warm and friendly.”
Prior, 65, first contacted her earlier this year and stayed in touch through emails and phone calls. They last spoke two months ago when Dingley and Colegate were in Switzerland. “I was so full of enthusiasm. Trying to get these books out was their main goal before Christmas, “Prior said.
Three weeks after his disappearance, Dingley’s friends and family hope that a line from his blog is prescient. It says: “Not all who wander are lost.”
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