Police could be “months” away from resuming the search for missing Esther Dingley hikers, officials searching for her have admitted – as a forensic reconstruction of her disappearance in the Pyrenees shows.
Bad territory reached the area late Thursday and resulted in a week-long search that stopped helicopters, dogs and about 15 experts from several elite Civil Guard Mountain Rescue Units that night.
They didn’t go out on Friday and had no plans to continue their work that weekend as the village of Benasque, 3,280 feet above sea level, had snow and freezing temperatures and the summit where Esther made her last contact with her boyfriend in November had 22, which is another 6,000 feet up.
Sergeant Jorge Lopez Ramos, head of the GREIM civil guard’s mountain rescue team in Benasque, admitted that the operation may not resume with the same intensity until next spring.
He added, “We know the chances of finding Esther alive are slim and we have a very bitter taste in our mouths.”
After the end of the search, which also took place on the northern French side of the Pyrenees and was extended to Catalonia on Thursday, he said: “We have not found anything in any of the areas we were looking for that could help us find out where Esther is.
‘The weather has changed and the search ended on Thursday. In principle, if adverse weather conditions continue as expected, we will have to stop searching until we have a better idea of where to look.
“The snow will cover the mountain and it is possible that it will not go away until spring. That said, it is possible that the search cannot continue with the intensity that we have seen so far until spring. ‘
The police could be “months” away from resuming the search for the missing hiker Esther Dingley (pictured left with her friend Dan Colegate)
A forensic reconstruction of her disappearance in the Pyrenees has now been revealed. Your planned route and a sequence of events are detailed here
It is believed that other Civil Guard units, including telecommunications specialists, have been asked to investigate Esther’s disappearance. But the power is still very tense at the work they are doing.
They have privately dismissed the idea that the 37-year-old Durham adventurer might be attacked by a bear and have not commented on reports that they are hunting a man. Travel blogger Esther said she took her in her online travel diary with the mountains in the days before she disappeared.
Police have spoken to hikers who saw Esther rowing to the UK as a school girl and heading towards Pico Salvaguardia on November 19.
Her 38-year-old friend Dan Colegate, a former business development manager, had stayed in France with her five dogs, sitting in the tiny Haute-Pyrenees village of Arreau.
It is believed that he was interviewed by both Spanish and French police to see if he could shed more light on their whereabouts.
Well-placed sources confirmed that she had been to Pic de Sauvegarde on the Spanish side of the border on November 21 and posted a selfie on Instagram before returning the next day.
Spokespersons for the Civil Guard in the provincial capital of Huesca and at the National Forces Headquarters in Madrid when asked what other work is being done to solve the mystery of what happened to Esther will only say: “All options are being considered. Nobody was excluded. ‘
37-year-old Esther Dingley was hiking in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain when she disappeared last week
On the last day of the search, officers from five different civil guard mountain rescue teams participated in the operation.
Last night her aunt Elizabeth Wolsey said, “It’s a very stressful time for everyone. We have no idea what happened to her.
‘Your father is upset. We feel completely helpless. It goes round and round in your head – where is she? – and yet all you can do is wait for news. «
Despite daily searches by Spanish and French authorities for the past ten days using dogs, helicopters and drones, there were no signs of Esther. No answer from her phone. No evidence of their whereabouts.
The situation is excruciating, especially for Esther’s partner Dan, who spoke of being “broken” and “shaken”, that “my beloved Esther – the person who taught me how to feel – is missing”.
The last thing he or anyone heard from Esther was on Sunday, November 22nd, just before 4 p.m., when she sent him a selfie that was taken at the top of the Pic de Sauvegarde on the Spanish side of the border. The picture shows her beaming into the camera from a snow-capped peak with a sweeping view of the mountains behind her.
Police are looking for a mysterious man who, three days before she disappeared, had the opportunity to meet with British woman Esther Dingley on top of a Pyrenees mountain, and took this picture
The conditions were clear and there was at least an hour and a half of daylight left – plenty of time for the experienced hiker and trail runner to reach the mountain hut where she wanted to spend the night. However, there is no evidence that it ever got there.
According to Dan, Esther was well prepared for the final walk after several weeks of solo hiking. Their last conversation was about how excited we were to see each other as this was their last trip before heading back.
Esther also spoke to her father Henry before going up the mountain and calling him to tell him about the preparations she had made.
“She told him she was preparing for her last hike before going home to Dan,” says her aunt. “She had the right clothes and equipment and knew where to go. She was looking forward to it. ‘
Esther set off on her solo adventure in early November, leaving Dan and the couple’s five dogs where they sat in the tiny French village of Arreau in the Haute Pyrenees.
It was the second time in two years that she went to the mountains alone. “When I do this, it helps me not to be afraid of other things. I’m also less stressed about the urgency of things on my mind, ”she wrote.
Was this the feeling she and Dan were referring to when they rented out their Durham apartment and set off on their adventures in 2014?
Dan Colegate, the British partner of missing hiker Esther Dingley, looked for her alone in the Pyrenees earlier this week
On the morning of November 22nd, a few hours before Esther sent her final message to Dan, the couple were featured in a regional BBC news article by Tyne & Wear. Esther said both felt hollow beneath the surface of their previous conventional lives in Britain, like “zombies sleeping through life”.
She added, “We have always had the next goal, always something bigger so that we can do something in the future.”
It was a topic Dan mentioned in the 2019 book he wrote about her hiking adventures: Turn Left at Mont Blanc: “Esther and I had always done our best to be high-flyers and climb the ladder of success.”
They met in 2001 at Wadham College, Oxford. Dan was a sophomore chemistry student when Esther arrived to study economics and management.
The granddaughter of the World War II hero Warwick Dingley, who received the Military Cross for his service in Italy, was born in Amsterdam to a Dutch mother and a British businessman’s father.
After their parents divorced, Esther and her mother moved to the Buckinghamshire village of Stone. She was a boarding student at Headington School in Oxfordshire, where she represented Great Britain at the European Junior Cup because of her skills as a rower.
Both she and Dan left Oxford with first-class degrees and studied at Durham University, where Dan earned a PhD and Esther a Masters, before entering a research position at Cambridge. Then they left science to start their own venture capital company. They also tried the real estate market and took out loans from the bank.
The police involved in the search warned that Esther may have fallen or be ill because the snowfall made the search difficult
But with all of their revenues eaten up by debt, the company collapsed. Esther started a personal training company and Dan found work as a business development manager. But, as Dan puts it, they experienced “a disillusionment verging on depression”.
In early 2014, Dan received counseling for depression, while Esther was diagnosed with chronic fatigue caused by her own mental health problems.
After Dan had a near death experience, they reassessed their lives. After suffering from bowel problems since childhood, he underwent routine surgery to fix a hernia. In the hospital, however, he developed necrotizing fasciitis which became so severe that Esther was advised to say goodbye.
As she put it, “It was time for us to think about our lives again.”
For the past six years, the couple’s adventures have had them hike or cycle through the Alps in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria.
At the end of October, Esther began a month-long solo adventure. She told the BBC that she and Dan had decided to spend a few weeks apart, with Dan staying with the dogs in Gascony while she drove off in the RV.
“We discovered that we hadn’t been apart for a year during the coronavirus. So we decided that everyone would do their own thing for a while. The whole thing was really good for us; We’re really happy now, ”she said.
In the past month she has done several solo hikes, some of them day trips. At other times, she would camp overnight in either her tent or mountain huts and post photos of the stunning scenery she saw each day.
The arduous walks she undertook were in keeping with her abilities. An avid athlete, she raised more than £ 4,700 for NHS Charities Together this April by running a 36-hour marathon.
She wore all the equipment required for mountain hiking in winter: “I love being a snail,” she wrote on Instagram on November 17th. She added, “I love to have everything I need on my back. It gives me confidence and freedom. . . because I know that I have everything I need to survive with myself. ‘
Mr. Colegate (picture), Esther’s 18-year-old partner, gave statements to the police in Spain and France while hunting down the hiker
On this occasion she turned away from her planned route because the snow was too deep. A few days later, on November 19th, bad weather forced her to cancel a night trip. She returned down the mountain with a fellow hiker who took her back to Benasque, where her RV was parked. Two days later she returned to the 2800 foot summit of Pic de Sauvegarde. “I’m in heaven,” she wrote on Instagram on November 21st.
The selfie she sent Dan the following afternoon was the last time she made contact. She was due to return to Gascony last Wednesday, and when she failed to make contact, Dan warned. Sergeant Ramos, head of Mountain Rescue for the Civil Guard, says it’s confusing not to find her because visibility was good and the area is largely open. The route it followed is well used by families in the summer. According to experts, there are not many places where it is possible to fall more than a few meters.
Sergeant Ramos said his team also searched areas off the main routes and small crevices and voids in the rock face.
Attempts have also been made to locate Esther’s location using her cell phone – not an easy task given that no signal is received in parts of the mountain and the masts that her phone would have connected to while walking are thousands of meters apart.
“You have a bitter taste in your mouth when so much work has been put into a search that has no results,” says Sergeant Ramos.
Pierre Gaillard, deputy commander of the French high mountain gendarmerie train, said Esther’s phone was last active when she called Dan just before 4 p.m. on November 22. “There has been no data usage or GPS tracking since then,” he adds.
While the possibility that Esther is still on the mountain remains the most likely scenario, a police investigation has opened. Officers will not reveal anything except that all options are considered. Theories abound.
Five days before she disappeared, Esther posted pictures of a large animal print in the snow on Facebook. Brown bears are known to live in the Pyrenees, and while they are reportedly fearful of humans, this is another possible line of investigation. The police are also trying to speak to the man Esther met at the top of the mountain three days before she disappeared.
She mentioned him in a Facebook post on Nov. 19, saying they hiked together and he took her back to her van. Police believe he may have important clues as to what plans they may have had.
In 2014, when Dan was seriously ill, Esther spoke about how the fear of losing him had changed the way she looked at life: “Suddenly someone says that the person I love and with whom I wanted to do everything is over could be the morning. ‘
Last May, Dan thought about what she must have been through. “I never really appreciated how difficult it was for her to go home alone, to an apartment full of our lives together, with no guarantee that life would resume,” he said. “It takes strength to be left behind.”
How tragically prescient these words seem now.
‘I need her back. I cannot face the alternative, ”he wrote on the Facebook page on November 28th when Esther was missing for four days.
Their nomadic life is one that many dream of, but few dare to try. But Esther’s disappearance has turned her hard-won luck on its head.
Until she is found, there is no end in sight for her partner and family as they wait in agony for news from the woman they love.