POLICE believe Brit hiker Esther Dingley may not have disappeared in a mountain accident as rescue teams scoured the Pyrenees before a snowstorm.
Authorities are now probing “other options”, her partner Dan Colegate has said, as Spanish police combed the mountains in a helicopter.
Dan said that the “prevailing opinion” of authorities was that Esther is not in the mountains following extensive searches.
It’s feared a snowstorm due to land yesterday evening could be the start of a thick winter blanket covering the mountain range.
The couple have been on a six-year camper van tour through Europe since 2014.
Esther, 37, was expected to return from a solo trek on Wednesday and last spoke to partner Dan via WhatsApp ten days ago while scaling Pic de Sauvegarde on the France-Spain border.
But she hasn’t been seen or heard from since 4pm on November 22, with her disappearance sparking a desperate search mission.
She is now listed as a national missing person in Spain and her case has been passed to “a specialised judicial unit in France”, Dan added.
In a Facebook post, he wrote: “For several days now there has been talk that perhaps Esther might not be up there and that this was the reason they couldn’t find her.
“However, with no result day after day, taking into account Esther’s high level of experience, the nature of the terrain, the good weather she would have had, the fact she had a clearly defined route for Sunday evening and Monday, and various other factors, both search coordinators have essentially told me that although they can never be 100% sure, the prevailing opinion in the search teams is that she isn’t there.
“That if she had fallen from one of the paths, they really would have expected to find her given the intensity, the closeness of the search and the fact most of the trails are really quite straightforward across open ground.
“As things stand tonight, Esther is now listed as a national missing persons case in Spain and the case has been passed to a specialised judicial unit in France.”
He added: “This means they will be looking at other options beyond a mountain accident.”
He called it a ” terrifying development”, but said he was “trying to focus on the fact that it leaves the door open that Esther might still come home”.
Snow has been falling in the area where she began her solo hike a week ago, with temperatures falling to -2C at night at points.
Dan told the BBC his girlfriend had been away for a month before she went missing and their last conversation was about “how excited we were to see each other as this was her last trip before driving back”.
As things stand tonight, Esther is now listed as a national missing persons case in Spain and the case has been passed to a specialised judicial unit in France
She had started walking from Benasque in Spain on November 21 and planed to spend Sunday night at Refuge Venasque in France.
Experienced hiker Esther left Dan on a farm in Gascony last month and set out to complete the Pyrenees trail on her own.
Esther and Dan, from Durham, quit their jobs in 2014 to tour Europe in a campervan for a year and kept going with their five dogs.
They have posted photos on their travel blog of them scaling mountains across the continent over the past six years.
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Describing her adventures on Facebook days before going missing, Esther said she found herself “racing the weather” during one hike and pushing her “comfort zone” as she headed out alone in difficult conditions.
The couple, who have been together for 18 years, were prompted to begin their campervan travels after Dan survived a flesh-eating bug.
They have lived in France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Liechtenstein.