Manitoba

'As if she disappeared into thin air': Search continues for woman, 84, who went missing picking berries

The search for a senior who went missing while berry picking earlier this week continued in southeastern Manitoba on Friday.

Family worried after finding no trace of Mary Byman, last seen Wednesday in southeastern Manitoba

Mary Byman, 84, went missing while berry picking with a friend on Wednesday. (Submitted by Maureen Geurts)

The daughter of an 84-year-old woman who disappeared while picking berries on Wednesday says she's worried, and searchers say they're "baffled" by the lack of any sign of the senior.

The search continued Friday for Mary Byman, 84, who was last seen on Wednesday afternoon while picking berries with another woman in southeastern Manitoba.

"Were all just hoping we can find her," Byman's daughter, Maureen Geurts, said Friday.

"I'm worried about exposure, I'm worried about her passing away in the wilderness and not finding her. No matter what, we hope to find her."

Geurts said her mother disappeared from a spot in the woods she had been to dozens of times before. It's not far from her home in Menisino, about 125 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.

"This is really bizarre because her partner had a whistle and she blew when it was time to come out [of the bush], and she swears she heard my mother blow the whistle," said Geurts.

The woman waited about 15 minutes for Byman, but she didn't appear.

Mary Byman was berry picking with a friend in the Spur Woods area near Piney, Man., when they became separated Wednesday afternoon. (Submitted by RCMP)

Around 100 volunteers, many of them trained in search and rescue, descended on the Spur Woods area, south of Provincial Road 201 and between the communities of Menisino and Piney, on Thursday.

After searching for hours on Thursday, more than 80 people resumed the search Friday just before 8 a.m.

Over 60 square kilometres have been scouted by plane or on foot. Search dogs have been in the area and a drone was used Thursday, but nothing has yielded any trace of the missing grandmother.

Len Friesen, one of the volunteer searchers, knows Byman from their church. He says Byman was well known and well liked, and her disappearance has shaken the community.

"Baffled. I would say we are all baffled because you know … it's as if she disappeared into thin air," Friesen said.

"She was 84 years old. She couldn't exactly run a mile through the bush, so where is she?" 

Len Friesen, one of the volunteer searchers, knew Byman from church and said her disappearance has left people baffled. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Friesen, who knows the wooded area well, said it would be easy for someone to get turned around in the dense brush.

"Even people that spend a lot of time in the bush, like myself, panic comes easily. I've experienced that bush panic. You just lose your sense of where you are, your orientation and so on, so she may be in that state."

Geurts said the family is thankful for the support from people in the area. Volunteers have been making food, and searchers have come from all over southern Manitoba to help. But, she says, with every hour that passes, the worry grows.

"It's very tough. A lot of sleeplessness, a lot of tears. We're hoping and praying that somewhere there's a break.

Search crews combed through dense brush on Friday near the area where Byman was last seen. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Geurts said Byman's husband of 59 years has mobility issues and wishes he could be out searching. 

"He's keeping that stiff upper lip, but he's worried," she said. 

RCMP say it's possible Byman could be eating berries to stay hydrated and searchers aren't giving up hope.

"With each and every passing hour it gets a little bit more difficult for the family to perhaps keep hope, but we always keep hope," said RCMP Sgt. Joanne Ryll.

"There's been instances where it's been up to four days and we've found the person." 

Police are asking people in the area to check their properties and outbuildings and call police with any information.

Byman was wearing a long-sleeved blue-and-white checkered blouse when she was last seen, and may have been wearing a grey hat, her family said.

As darkness fell Friday evening, RCMP announced the search had been suspended for the day. Ryll told CBC News it will resume at 8 a.m. Saturday.

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