Search to be scaled down for missing tourist

2008-02-06 00:00

The search for the elderly Scottish hiker who has been missing in the Berg since Saturday will be downscaled today, after yesterday’s search, which concentrated on the area close to the Cathedral Peak Hotel, found no sign of the seasoned hiker.

The tourist’s family have begun gathering at Cathedral Peak to await news of 73-year-old Michael Hetherington.

His nephew, Alex Hetherington, who rushed down from Johannesburg, told The Witness that the family greatly appreciate all that the police, mountain rescue services and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife rangers are doing in their efforts to find his uncle. "They’ve given it their best shot."

Last night, Alex’s father Ian (Michael’s brother) was due to arrive at Cathedral Peak from Cape Town.

Alex said that his uncle spent time with the family in Cape Town before making his way to the Berg. He described him as "very fit and well". "Walking alone was second nature to him." Alex said that his uncle has never had a problem before and that the family did not think it necessary to warn him about hiking alone.

Gavin Raubenheimer of the Mountain Club of South Africa told The Witness that extensive searches of the area yielded no clues as to Hetherington’s whereabouts.

"We went to the top of Cathedral peak and worked our way down in case he went up there, and four different parties went out on foot and went up various valleys on paths in case he had made a mistake and got lost in one of them." He added that the main river passing by the hotel was searched for the third time by police divers yesterday.

"We have searched vast areas on foot with various parties with search dogs and have used helicopters as well, but no sign has been found of Hetherington."

He said information they received indicated that Hetherington parked his car at the car park at Cathedral Peak after 10.45 am on Saturday, so the assumption was that he would not have gone far.

"We think that he may have gone birdwatching as we found a list of birds he had spotted in the area in his car."

Raubenheimer said that they therefore intensified the search in a one kilometre radius of the hotel.

According to a British newspaper, Press and Journal in Aberdeen, Hetherington is a former school teacher from St Albans in Hertfordshire.

They reported that prayers were being said for his safe return in his home community and quoted the Reverend Graham Crawford, of St James Church in Lossiemouth on the north-east coast of Scotland, describing Hetherington as an avid hillwalker, an intelligent and thoughtful person, and an all round "top-notch guy".

Graham said Hetherington was an experienced hill walker who had climbed most of the Scottish Munros, and came every year to South Africa to visit relatives.

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