The boyfriend of missing British backpacker Esther Dingley who vanished in the Pyrenees last year has said he fears she may have had a run in with a hunter.
In an interview with The Daily Mirror, Dan Colegate also rubbished claims that she was unhappy in their relationship, and revealed their final loving texts.
He told the newspaper that he believes ‘a third person being involved’ in his partner’s disappearance ‘is the only viable alternative’ to other possibilities that have been suggested, including that she disappeared voluntarily or had an accident.
Mr Colegate said that as he walked the trail she is believed to have gone missing on in November, he came across hunters – sparking the fear that she may have come across an armed stranger, and bundled into a car.
‘The fact no trace was found – and given the specifics of the weather, terrain and location – I lean towards somebody else being involved, even though that raises its own questions,’ he said on Saturday.
Pictured: Ms Dingley with her partner Daniel Colegate, who has spoken publicly for the first time since his partner disappeared on November 22 solo hiking in the Pryanees mountains
Sunday marks 50 says since 37-year-old Ms Dingley, an Oxford graduate, vanished while hiking solo in the Pyrenees.
The last communication from Dingley was a selfie she sent to Mr Colegate, her partner of 19 years, from the top of the mountain on November 22.
She had been due to return to their farmhouse in Gascony, south west France, three days later but failed to do so.
Mr Colegate has also revealed the couple’s final loving texts. One – sent by Ms Dingley – said: ‘I’m on a col/peak so can’t stop for too long. Can’t wait to read all your messages. Love you very much XXX having a really good time.’
Ms Dingley continued to keep her partner updated on her hike, saying in a later text she ‘might dip into France’ after heading for the Port de la Glere mountain pass.
Esther Dingley, 37, was hiking the Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain when she vanished, prompting a search and rescue operation that has since been suspended due to the weather. Pictured: Her last selfie to her partner before dissappearing
The final time the couple spoke was via a video call. ‘We were both very happy to see each other so happy. We were also excited we’d be together again in a few days,’ Mr Colegate said.
Mr Colegate dismissed the theory that that his partner could have ‘voluntarily disappeared’ because she was unhappy in their relationship.
This theory was put forward by French Captain Jean-Marc Bordinaro in December, who has been leading the investigation into Ms Dingley. He told The Times that officers were unable to dismiss ‘the theory of a voluntary disappearance’.
‘Esther Dingley wanted to continue with her current way of life, journeys in a camper van and sporting activities including hiking, whilst Daniel Colegate seems a little tired of this nomadic life,’ he told the newspaper in December.
‘Did [she] want to go off on her own to live her life and organise her own disappearance? There is nothing enabling us to eliminate this working theory. This situation provoked some tensions within the couple, but nothing too much.’
After mountain rescue teams no trace of Ms Dingley, the search was called off on December 3 because of poor weather conditions.
Ms Dingley with her partner Daniel Colegate, pictured in 2014 at the start of their motorhome adventure. After being on the road for 6 years travelling around Europe
Pictured: Ms Dingley and partner Mr Colegate on their travels in Venice, Italy. The pair left their life in Britain behind in 2014 and set off to travel Europe
Mr Colegate said that this theory hurt because it was based on an anecdote, and that he and Ms Dingley were already planning to apply for residency in France together.
‘Although we hadn’t decided on the precise details of where, how and for how long we’d travel in 2021, we had no intention of stopping our travels,’ he said.
‘It’s true to say we sometimes have different preferences, like any normal couple, but we discuss them openly.’
He also dismissed questions over the state of his partner’s mental health, saying she had not suffered depression for almost a decade, and that she was incredibly physically fit – noting they have completed an 80-day, 1,000 mile hike weeks ago.
The most likely areas for Ms Dingley to have fallen have been covered by helicopters and searchers with high-powered telescopes, which Mr Colegate says shows that if she had an accident, the chances are she would have been found.
He is reassured by the authorities’ efforts to find his girlfriend, however, saying that ‘It’s clear that finding her means a lot to them too.’
Esther stayed at his 7,000ft Angel Orus Refuge (pictured) on November 17, and seemed ‘in very good spirits’
French police, meanwhile, have dismissed the possibility that a third party may have been involved in her disappearance, saying an accident is the ‘favoured line of enquiry’ in their investigation.
Ms Dingley’s partner made a fresh plea for answers to the mystery surrounding her whereabouts, saying her disappearance has plagued him with nightmares, and said she could have had a run in with a hunter.
He that since his girlfriend disappeared, he has been ‘lost in a world that no longer makes sense to me.’
He has previously said he found it difficult to imagine that she had had an accident as the descent from the mountain was relatively short and the terrain and weather were both good.
He told The Mirror: ‘The pain of her disappearance is excruciating – but even that pales into insignificance against the pain of not knowing.
‘It’s crippling. The nightmares, the constant questioning, the helplessness. Every aspect of my life and the future I dream of includes Esther.’
Dan Colegate, the British partner of missing hiker Esther Dingley, was searching for her alone in the Pyrenees earlier this week. Pictured: A map showing the likely route she was taking
Since Ms Dingley’s disappearance, Mr Colegate has worked with British charity LBT Global. His work has lead to a dossier outlining three theories behind her disappearance.
These are that she was involved in an accident, that she went missing on purpose, or that someone else harmed her.
Even police in both France and Spain have been left dumbfounded by her disappearance, with similar theories being floated by authorities since she vanished.
Mr Colegate told the newspaper that he has since retraced her steps to help the search for clues, and fears she may have been taken by a stranger in a car.
He said: ‘It’s a question I consider countless times every day. I accept Esther may have had an accident. But so much about that doesn’t make sense.
‘Why couldn’t they find her? Or even a single trace of her equipment? The fact no trace was found – and given the specifics of the weather, terrain and location – I lean towards somebody else being involved, even though that raises its own questions.
‘A third person being involved is the only other viable alternative.’
He added that during his time retracing her steps, he spotted hunters out shooting, and wondered whether she may have encountered someone who was armed.
The couple met at Oxford University where they both studied. Ms Dingley was reading Economics while Mr Colegate studied Chemistry.
The Oxford graduate parked the Fiat camper in a car park in the Spanish town of Benasque on November 15 before setting off on her solo trek around the Pyrenees
A book and memoir written by Colegate and later published titled ‘What Adventures Shall We Have Today?: Travelling from More to Less in Search of a Simpler Life’, published in June, says that after they both graduated with first class degrees, they settled into successful academic careers.
Later, in 2013, the pair looked for a new start. Mr Colegate started working as an administrative worker at Newcastle University, while Ms Dingley worked as a personal trainer. They had also both been diagnosed with depression.
A wedding was arranged for February 2014, but at Christmas the year before, Mr Colegate required surgery and the pair decided to call off the wedding and set off for a new life of travelling.
Last year, Colegate arranged for them to stay in a remote farmhouse in the Pyrenees village of Arreau, which they decided to return to when lockdown began earlier this year. But at the end of October, Ms Dingley set off alone for a hike.
On November 15, she parked their campervan in the village of Benasque, which has now become the site of the on-going investigation into her whereabouts.
The last person to see Esther was Spanish Olympic skier Marti Vigo del Arco, who was coming down from Pico Salvaguardia with his girlfriend on November 22 at around 3pm as Esther was going up.
It is known that she reached the peak of the mountain because of a selfie she sent to Colegate at the top, just before 4pm, and three days before she was expected to return to the Spanish village of Benasque.
Anyone with information that could help find missing hiker Esther Dingley is urged to contact LBT Global through the following ways.
LBT Global Hotline: +44 (0) 800 098 8485
WhatsApp: +44 (0) 7545 826 497