Australian police say they have scaled back the search for a Canadian hiker missing for more than two weeks in Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales.
The move came even as the family and friends of Prabhdeep Srawn pleaded with Australian authorities to expand the search for the 25-year-old hiker from Brampton, Ont.
A Canadian military reservist, Srawn was last seen May 13 when he drove to a village in the park where he intended to go for a bushwalk.
A search operation only began on May 20 when it was discovered he was missing.
In a release early Tuesday, New South Wales police said they made the "tough decision" to scale down the operation after consulting medical experts and examining the conditions and weather forecasts for the area.
They pointed out that for more than a week, police with the assistance of several state and federal agencies had conducted an extensive search for Srawn.
Diane Ablonczy, the minister of state of foreign affairs (Americas and consular affairs), said Canada had asked Australia to maintain search efforts. Although the request was denied, she said the two countries continue to work together to find Srawn.
"Our engagement with Australian authorities at all levels will continue on the search for Mr. Srawn. We join Canadians in praying for his safe return," Ablonczy said Tuesday in a statement.
Srawn hasn't been heard from since parking his rental car on May 13 in the village of Charlotte Pass in the national park. The car was found that same day and police said they believe he got lost in the freezing conditions.
Srawn, who was born and raised in Hamilton, has been studying law at Bond University in Australia for the past two years. His family moved to Brampton in 2012.
His cousin, Tej Sahota, tweeted late Monday that the family is offering a $15,000 reward if Srawn is found safe.
'Rescue efforts were very slow in the beginning,' family member says
Members of his family have travelled to Australia to urge officials to increase search efforts by calling in the military, which emergency officials are currently refusing to do.
"It seems like rescue efforts were very slow in the beginning," Srawn's cousin, Ruby Singh-Sahota said. "We know he's out there somewhere — we're just frustrated by how long it's taking to get to him."
Canadian officials at Foreign Affairs have been little help in the search, Singh-Sahota said. Amanda Reid, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs, told the CBC that consular officials have been working closely with local authorities and are ready to help as needed.
"Consular officers remain in contact with family members and are providing assistance," she said.
But Singh-Sahota said that simply isn't the case. "The information we get is a lot quicker than they do," she said. "It's not too useful."
No privacy concerns
When pressed for information as to the status of the search or the Canadian government's role, Reid would only say, "to protect the privacy of the individual concerned we can release no further details on this case."
Singh-Sahota found that odd, as well. "The family has no concern of privacy in this matter," she said.
Srawn was a Canadian Forces reservist from 2005 to 2011, belonging to the 31 Service Battalion's Hamilton Company. This training, according to Singh-Sahota, gives him an advantage surviving in the wild, but doesn't completely protect him from severe weather conditions.
"Every minute is so crucial and the weather is getting worse," said Singh-Sahota. "Although Prabh is a very smart guy, and we know he has very good survival instincts. And if anybody can hold on, it can be him."