Full search for British hiker Esther Dingley could be delayed until spring because of snow

Gerard Couzens
·3 min read
Esther Dingley, 37, was reported missing on November 25 - Reuters
Esther Dingley, 37, was reported missing on November 25 - Reuters

A full air and ground search for a missing British hiker could be delayed until snow set to cover the mountain this weekend has melted in the spring, officers hunting for her have admitted.

Esther Dingley, 37, was reported missing by her partner, Dan Colegate, after failing to return from a solo walking trek in the Pyrenees on November 25.

Her last message was via WhatsApp from on top of Pic de Sauvegarde, on the France-Spain border, three days earlier.

Officers are treating the disappearance as a missing persons case and launched a desperate search operation for Ms Dingley, an Oxford graduate. However, the week-long search, involving helicopters, dogs and around 15 experts from several Civil Guard elite mountain rescue units, was halted on Thursday due to bad weather.

The mystery threatened to deepen further on Saturday when a new witness came forward, claiming to have spotted Ms Dingley hiking up a mountain trail on the day she was last seen.

Marti Vigo del Arco, a Spanish Olympic skier, told a Barcelona newspaper he and his girlfriend had seen the British hiker at around 3pm and thought it was late in the day to be climbing the Pic de Sauvegarde.

South Face of the Tuca de Salvaguardia in the Posets-Maladeta Nature Park, Pyrenees, Spain.
South Face of the Tuca de Salvaguardia in the Posets-Maladeta Nature Park, Pyrenees, Spain.

It was just before 4pm that Ms Dingley had sent a selfie to her partner from the summit of the mountain.

“She was coming up, we were on the descent, she was very heavily loaded with a very big backpack,” Mr Vigo del Arco told Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper.

“She asked us if we had a piece of fruit or something fresh, but we didn’t have anything,” said Vigo del Arco. “She carried on up.”

The couple did not see anyone else coming up the mountain and may have been the last people to have seen Ms Dingley.

Rescue teams have no plans to go out this weekend due to freezing temperatures affecting the peak from which Ms Dingley sent her last message, which is 8,983ft above sea level.

They were also forced to abandon searching the village of Benasque, where she had left her car before embarking on the final leg of her journey.

Sergeant Jorge Lopez Ramos, the head of the Civil Guard mountain rescue team in Benasque, admitted that the operation may not resume with the same intensity until next spring.

He said: "We appreciate the chances of finding Esther alive are minimal and it leaves us with a very bitter taste in our mouths. We have not found anything at all in any of the areas we've searched that might help us discover where Esther is.

"The weather has changed and the search finished on Thursday. In principle, if the adverse weather conditions continue as we expect, then we'll have to stop the search until we have a better idea of where we should be looking.

"The snow will cover the mountain and it's possible that it won't disappear until the spring. That means it's possible the search can't resume with the same intensity we've seen so far until the spring."

Ms Dingley and Mr Colegate have been travelling around Europe in a van for six years after quitting their jobs and selling their home in Durham.

Other Civil Guard units, including specialists in telecommunications, are believed to have been asked to investigate Ms Dingley's disappearance. Although they have remained tight-lipped about the work they are doing, they have privately dismissed the idea that she could have been attacked by a bear.

They have made no comment on reports they are hunting a man travel blogger Esther said in her online travel diary had given her a lift down from the mountains in the days before she vanished.