SYDNEY – Australian police say they have scaled back the search for a Canadian hiker missing for more than two weeks in the Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales.
The move came even as the family and friends of Prabhdeep Srawn pleaded with Australian authorities to expand the search for the 25-year-old hiker from Brampton, Ont.
Dr. Tej Sahota, whose wife is Srawn’s cousin, says the police search will only go on for another two days, with 21 people rather than the 28 previously searching.
“Today and tomorrow will be their final two days of search and if they don’t locate him at that point they are going to call it off,” Sahota said Tuesday in an interview from Cleveland, Ohio.
A Canadian military reservist, Srawn was last seen May 13, when he drove to a village in the park where he intended to go for a bushwalk.
A search operation only began on May 20 when it was discovered he was missing.
In a release Tuesday, New South Wales Police said they had decided to scale down the operation after consulting medical experts and examining the conditions and weather forecasts for the area.
Despite eight days of searching, emergency services have not been able to locate any sign of Srawn, said the release.
Supt. Shane Box, a local area commander, said he and other senior officers have been in constant contact with Srawn’s family and the decision was not made lightly.
“Today I spoke with Mr. Srawn’s family and made the tough decision to scale back the search.”
But Sahota said the family still holds out hope Srawn is alive and already has offered a $15,000 Cdn reward for private hikers who may be able to help find him. They also plan to hire private search and rescue teams to continue looking for Srawn if necessary, he said.
Sahota added Srawn has hiking experience and is equipped to handle the weather. The trail in that area is fairly wide and there are some restrooms and even cabins in some places, he said.
“He’s resourceful,” Sahota said. “There’s bugs to eat there. I’ve been reading that there are caterpillars and beetles and stuff like that that would be at that area of the mountain, so I’m sure he’s got a good chance of surviving with food and water. There’s fresh running water around the area too.”
Srawn’s family had earlier complained that the number of searchers being employed was far too small to cover the 7,000 square kilometres.
But police say they have conducted extensive searches over some of the hardest and most remote and unforgiving terrain in freezing temperatures.
Police also say they have concerns for the welfare of anyone planning to conduct their own searches for Srawn.
“I know this is an emotional time and people want to do everything they can to find Prabhdeep,” said Box. “(But) the weather forecast for the next few days is unfavourable with conditions expected to deteriorate rapidly.”
Box stressed police have not given up looking for Srawn and the scaled-back search will continue over the next two days.
— By Abdul Latheef in Toronto.