The search for missing British hiker Esther Dingley was halted today due to bad weather after police confirmed she could have been attacked.
The Spanish Civil Guard say they are halting searches due to snowstorms in the Pyrenees and the bad weather is expected to last all weekend.
While the rescuers assess daily whether a resumption is safe, “the snow covers the areas and is therefore more confusing and therefore more difficult,” said a spokeswoman for the Civil Guard.
Police also announced today that they believe Ms. Dingley never crossed the border from Spain into France.
The Spanish and French authorities are both involved in the large search mission with drones, helicopters and dogs, but after eight days they still have to find a trace of the 37-year-old from Durham.
Her boyfriend, 38-year-old Dan Colegate, who reported her missing on November 24th after two days of no contact, is said to be “very concerned,” reports The Mirror.
Investigators said they fear Esther Dingley may have been attacked as the search for her continues in the Pyrenees and her boyfriend Dan Colegate (pair pictured together) is considered “very concerned”.
37-year-old Esther Dingley was hiking in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain when she disappeared last week
Police chief Laurent Gerin, who was involved in the search in Bagnères-de-Luchon, said: “We have no last place. She has turned off her cell phone from time to time and we need to track her usage.
“She might be on a different path than planned. But she could have been attacked. Your friend is very concerned.
‘Snow has fallen, it’s very bad for searching. She could have fallen, she could be sick – we don’t know. We have to check everything. ‘
The Spanish Civil Guard took over the investigation when French colleagues said they did not believe Ms. Dingley had crossed the border.
Spanish police released a second video of the search on Friday, showing officials on skis searching snow-capped mountains.
The video, which was taken by helicopter, appears to have been taken on Thursday as the search was canceled on Friday.
“We had to cancel the search because of the heavy snowfall on Thursday evening in the region in which we are looking. The search for a missing person remains our main line of investigation, but we are not ruling out other possibilities, ”said a Civil Guard spokesman.
It was revealed on Wednesday evening that investigators are looking for a man who took the solo hiker away, and Spanish and French authorities believe he could prove crucial in tracking them down.
Esther shared the man’s existence in a Facebook post on November 19, saying they happened to meet at the top of a mountain before going down together.
She said she accepted an elevator from the man back to her RV, which was later found abandoned in the Spanish town of Benasque.
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 meeting took place just three days before Esther’s last visit, and police believe the man may have important clues as to what happened to her.
She wrote: “It was the first time I had seen anyone in almost two days, and when this friendly fellow hiker took some photos, the weather blew in …
“I had the opportunity to stay in a great caban, even had a mattress, but it was only 2 pm or I would go down with my fellow hiker and get an elevator.
“He took me further down into the valley so I can continue my planned tour to another refuge or back to the motor home.
“There will be more days in the hills!” I said to the little part of me that didn’t want to go back yet.
“It was about making it easy for me. It would be warm and sunny in the motor home and there was someone here ready to take me …
“And then, as we drove off, this magnificent rainbow appeared”. Yoga, good food, sunshine and warmth awaited me in the mobile home. ‘
A police source told The Sun, “This man had conversations with her and might know what she was up to.”
Dan Colegate, the British partner of missing hiker Esther Dingley, looked for her alone in the Pyrenees earlier this week
“Maybe they agreed to take a different route and hike. We absolutely have to find him. ‘
The police investigation comes after Esther was listed as a missing person case across Spain when search teams suspected she was no longer in the mountains.
Mr. Colegate revealed the new information on a shared Facebook pagewhere the couple documented six years of their nomadic journeys through Europe.
He wrote the mail just hours before the snowy weather hit the Pyrenees. The rescuers believe that this will be the beginning of the winter snow tip, which will make the search much more difficult.
He wrote: ‘W.No result day in and day out, taking into account Esther’s high level of experience, the nature of the terrain, the good weather, the fact that she had a clearly defined route for Sunday evening and Monday, and various other factors search coordinators essentially told me that she , although they can never be 100% sure, the prevailing opinion on search teams is that it is not there.
“If she had fallen off one of the trails, given the intensity, the proximity of the search, and the fact that most of the trails over open terrain are really quite easy, they really would have expected to find her.
As of today, Esther is now listed as a national missing persons case in Spain and the case has been referred to a specialized judicial unit in France.
‘This means they will be looking at options other than a mountain accident.
“While this is a terrible development in many ways, I try to focus on the fact that the door is left open for Esther to come home.
“She was so happy and cheerful the last time we spoke, I would do anything to see her face and hold her now.”
Her plan had been to hike from town to Pic de Sauvegarde, a mountain peak in the Pyrenees, which she reached on November 22nd, and send Mr Colegate a picture via WhatsApp, which was her last contact.
From there, she planned to hike between Port de la Gléré and Port de Venasque – a distance of about eight miles – before hike down from the mountains on Wednesday.
But after two days of no contact, Mr. Colegate reported that Ms. Dingley was missing on November 24th, just a day before the end of her trip, sparking a massive manhunt.
The 37-year-old from Durham was on a month-long solo trip and was due to return on Wednesday
Given the bad weatherThe Spanish police extended the search on Tuesday to find Ms. Dingley.
Meanwhile, French police said they were using telephone recordings to improve their last known position due to the “excellent” signal in the mountains.
There are several telephone poles in the remote location, which means that your phone would have “pinged” the signal from them as long as it was on.
“There is excellent communication and there is no reason why the last known position of the phone cannot be found when it is turned off,” French investigators said.
The footage released on Tuesday shows the helicopter crossing rocky outcrops and icy peaks on the border between Spain and France.
On Saturday, Mr. Colegate said on the couple’s Facebook page, “I’m broken. Shattered that my beloved Esther, the person who taught me to feel, is missing. Search and rescue teams have so far found no trace of her. ‘
On Monday, he added in a new post on social media: “I just wanted to say thank you for the support and news that have come in over the past few days.
“I would like to write a more complete update soon, but so far there has been no sign of Esther in the area she wanted to explore, despite extensive searches from both sides of the border.
The police involved in the search warned that Esther may have fallen or be ill because the snowfall made the search difficult
“I’m going to take a little walk now before the sun goes down.”
At one point in the Spanish police film, the helicopter hovers over a lonely woman on a hill while an officer asks her with a microphone, “Are you Esther?”
The woman shakes her head as if to say no. Then the officer asks if she is Spanish and she nods in agreement before the helicopter flies away.
A spokesman for the Spanish Civil Guard said: “We have expanded the search to nearby hills and the search party has increased. We not only deploy mountain rescue personnel, but also all members of the environmental team who are available in the Huesca region. We remain open to where Ms. Dingley might be now. ‘
The French police sent a search team of 16 people together with national police experts to the mountain on Monday.
On his Facebook page, Mr. Colegate’s father Mick said, “We have spoken to son and you know that when you come down from the mountains I will be on the first available flight. You don’t have to be strong and honest all alone … love you son. ‘
Ms. Dingley walked from Benasque, Spain on November 21. French police said all traces of her were lost at 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 22nd. Thereafter, no further telephone messages were received.
The Spanish authorities were informed of her disappearance on November 25 and through their French counterparts the next morning. They found their vehicle on the Spanish side of the border.
Miss Dingley was a yoga enthusiast who had been a private trainer before giving up her career to travel around Europe
The routes it took were marked, well marked on maps, and fairly busy in normal times, French police said.
Several witnesses saw her on Sunday on the Spanish side and spoke to her.
There is an unmarked refuge just across the French border, but police said there was no evidence that it had been used.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Agency spokesman said: “Our staff supports the family of a British woman who was reported missing in the Pyrenees.”