Even as the Kangra administration on Saturday called off the search operations as the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team failed to trace the missing French trekkers, the Indian Army will launch a massive manhunt to find the duo.
“We called off the search operations. The NDRF team combed the entire forest overlooking Triund area in the weeklong search operation, but there was no trace of the missing hikers,” said Kangra SP Balbir Thakur.
Thakur said the NDRF team had been asked to come back as the Indian Army would be launching the manhunt from Sunday to trace the two hikers.
“A 60-member team of the Indian Army from Dharamsala Cantonment has already left for Triund. They will be starting the two-day search operations on Sunday,” said Thakur.
Valentine Marcel George and Francois Xavier, both in their early 20s, had gone missing when they split up from friends in Triund on August 22.
They were part of a group of 32-member field service inter-cultural learning team that had been on a visit to a school at Naddi village near McLeodganj and had started their trek on August 19. They were scheduled to return on August 22 but the two insisted on trekking to the high mountains and went missing the same day.
The 17-member NDRF team had joined the search operations last week after all efforts made by the local authorities failed to find the two.
“Several expedition teams, comprising police, trekkers and locals, were sent in the past 23 days, but all returned clueless about the whereabouts of the missing trekkers,” said Thakur.
The families of the trekkers had also announced reward money of `1 lakh to find them.
“Chances of their survival are very bleak due to tough terrain and hostile weather conditions in high mountains. Combing operation could not be conducted in an effective way as weather has been playing truant in the area for the past several days,” said Thakur.