Manitoba hiker missing in German Alps found dead, family confirms

Jeff Freiheit, a Manitoba man who went missing while hiking in the German Alps, has been found dead, his family has confirmed. He was 32.

Jeff Freiheit last spoke to his wife Aug. 2, before he set out on a treacherous trail

Jeff Freiheit posted this photo to Facebook from Bad Tolz, Germany, on Aug. 2. A Facetime call with him on that date was the last time his wife, Selena Freiheit, spoke with him before he went missing. (Submitted by Selena Freiheit)

Jeff Freiheit, a Manitoba teacher who went missing while hiking in the German Alps, has been found dead, his family has confirmed. He was 32.

Freiheit's family last heard from him on Aug. 2, shortly before he set out to hike a five-kilometre stretch of rugged trail just north of the Austrian border.

Freiheit's sister, Amanda Devigne, said her brother was found at the base of Brauneck mountain by his mother and his best friend, who had travelled there to search for him. He'd fallen about 60 metres. The pair were accompanied by a group of volunteer searchers.

Devigne said she and her family are "forever grateful" to the strangers who treated Freiheit and her family like it was their own family they were looking for. 

No evidence of foul play

German police said Sunday that searchers had found what they believe to be the body of a Canadian in the Bavarian Alps, and that there was no evidence of foul play.

On YouTube, Rich Manfield, who had been helping with the search, said they strongly believe Freiheit would have died instantly, suffering no pain. 

In a Skype interview, Manfield said any hike in the Alpine region is inherently dangerous, but that the area where Freiheit was found is sometimes underestimated as the mountains are smaller.

Freiheit's body was found beneath a ridge less than three kilometres from the location of his last Instagram post on Aug. 2. (Rich Manfield)

"But they are certainly very serious. And I think that ridge line, for me as a rock climber, is pretty precarious. I've been on it once and found it quite uncomfortable," he said. 

"It just takes one small slip, and if you can't recover from that slip, you're in grave trouble."

Freiheit's body was found in thick brush at the base of the mountain. Searches up until that point had focused on another area of the trail farther south, based on information about a possible sighting of Freiheit in the Jachenau region of Germany. 

Manfield said it was an experienced wilderness expert Susanne Williams, who is originally from Amsterdam but lives in Jachenau, who encouraged everyone to double back to the Brauneck region, which is where Freiheit was last seen on social media. He'd posted a video of himself to Instagram after climbing a hill in record time — rather than taking the cable car — to the Brauneck Panorama restaurant. 

The ridge line above the spot Freiheit was found is no more than three kilometres from the area where the video was taken, according to Manfield.

Watch Rich Manfield's final YouTube update on the search for Freiheit:

Though finding Freiheit dead is obviously very sad for the family and searchers, there was also some relief, he said. 

"I know really, it's very hard for the family at this stage, but at least they have a little bit of closure," he said.

Massive search effort

More than 400 strangers from Germany helped with the search.

Manfield posted updates on the search to YouTube and, with Freiheit's brother-in-law Nick Devigne, started a Facebook group for volunteers so that those involved would know where to look. 

"I know that he probably would've done the exact same for me. He seemed like one of those guys who would've done anything to help anyone. I think for me the one thing that  I took out of it is there's so much love for strangers in this world."

Freiheit was a high school teacher in Brandon, Man. He was also a coach and a friend to many.

In interviews, Selena, his wife of two years, called him her soulmate. The two shared a passion for travel and planned on starting a family upon Freiheit's return.

"Through a broken heart I've found peace in knowing that he did not suffer," Selena said in a Facebook post.

"Our family is beyond grateful for the outpouring of support during this sad and difficult time."

With files from Canadian Press and Erin Brohman