Private searchers zero in on Canadian hiker missing in Australia

Canadian family members of 25-year-old Hamilton native Prabhdeep Srawn say private searchers in Australia are zeroing in on the location of the hiker, who has been missing since May 13.

Family offers $50K reward to find ex-military reservist Prabhdeep Srawn of Hamilton

Rescue crew officer Luke Ashford uses a thermal imaging camera in a helicopter in this undated handout photo taken when Australian authorities conducting the search for Hamilton man Prabhdeep Srawn. (Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopters/Facebook)

Canadian family members of 25-year-old Hamilton native Prabhdeep Srawn say private searchers in Australia are zeroing in on the location of the missing hiker.

Prabhdeep Srawn, whose family lives in Brampton, Ont., has been missing since May 13, when he went for a bushwalk at Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=4363 size=small]

Srawn's cousin, Tej Sahota, tweeted late Monday that "using hundreds of variables in military-grade software programs," private search teams have decided he is likely near the Hannel's Pass area.

"Family and friends are camped out in an area within one kilometre of [that] given area and will attempt today to narrow [the] area down and locate," Sahota said. "The terrain is accessible but definitely 'off-trail' so to speak."

Srawn's family has increased the reward for finding him alive from $15,000 to $50,000. The family says the official search for him has ended, while Australian police insist it has been "scaled down."

There is no active police search happening in the mountain pass, Sahota says.

"There are a few police officers stationed just for regular cursory patrol that they would do on a normal day to day," he said.

Private search team is growing

But the family's private search team has grown to about 12 people, and now there are two or three local Australians joining in the efforts. The family also commissioned a helicopter to help in the search.

"But the problem is that it's parked right now," Sahota said. "Because it's a national park, they need police permission to fly over. Nobody from the office has shown up."

The family has repeatedly voiced concerns over what it calls lacklustre search efforts by Australian authorities.

"The family is frustrated right now," Sahota said. "If they're not going to continue the search, at least let us get our own people up there with helicopters.

"They keep saying they're waiting to do that until they get better weather, but the weather is absolutely immaculate."

A spokeswoman with New South Wales police who would not give her name told CBC Hamilton that the search is "not being called off as such, just being scaled down."

She said that "weather permitting," officers and a helicopter would be searching the area Wednesday. When asked how many officers would be searching, she simply said, "We don't have numbers."

The family is still dealing with the Canadian Embassy in Australia to see if headway can be made with Australian authorities, but a lot of "bureaucratic red tape" is making things difficult, Sahota says.

"It usually takes a day between Australia and Ottawa to communicate one message," he said. "I'm not being facetious — it literally takes a day just because of the time zone difference.

"We lose a lot of time going that route."

'Cold-weather training' offers hope 

Srawn's family and supporters still believe he'll be found alive because he had extensive survivor training and hiking experience.

Srawn was a Canadian Forces reservist from 2005 to 2011, belonging to the 31 Service Battalion's Hamilton Company. Sahota told CBC Hamilton that Srawn had risen to the rank of master corporal and was responsible for his own unit.

That unit did forced marches and cold weather training in northern Ontario, he said.

"They would do sustained cold weather training, with like two or three weeks of being in the middle of the forest with minimal equipment as part of their training. His report indicates that he did all of that with flying colours," he said.

The unit would often train in temperatures as low as –25 C, Sahota added.