Massive search efforts underway for missing men near Campbell River
Michael Gazetas in an undated photo. (RCMP photo)
VANCOUVER -- Search and rescue crews spent Saturday scouring the area around Highway 28 for a missing Courtenay man after discovering a new clue in his case.
They were also kept busy on Cortes Island looking for another missing man.
A total of nine search and rescue teams from all across Vancouver Island were involved in the two searches, which officials say are not related to each other.
The Highway 28 case is that of 51-year-old Michael Gazetas, who was last seen by his wife around 8:30 on the morning of Jan. 31. He was leaving their home near Courtenay in his red Ford Ranger pickup truck.
She says he was upset at the time, and she called police when he didn't return home that evening.
On Friday, RCMP investigators identified Gazetas' truck in surveillance footage from the date of his departure. First, he is seen heading toward Campbell River, then - about five minutes later - travelling west on Highway 28.
"That image was enough of a substantive clue to trigger a major search," said Paul Berry, search manager with Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue.
He said crews are searching along Highway 28 and the roads leading off of it, checking areas as far away as Buttle Lake and Gold River in the hope that Gazetas is waiting to be rescued.
"He could have headed out that day and gotten into an area where he no longer had cell coverage and was not able to proceed because of either snow or mechanical breakdown, and he's waiting for rescue." Berry said. "That's certainly the very best scenario."
The Cortes Island search also began Friday, Berry said. Crews are looking for a 21-year-old man there.
Both searches are being operated from the same headquarters. More than 100 searchers are involved in the efforts, and crews are also using planes, helicopters and boats to try to locate the missing men.
Anyone with information that could be useful to either search should call police, Berry said, adding that crews are especially hopeful for more witnesses or video footage from points farther west on Highway 28, which would help them narrow their search area.