The time, energy and concern of emergency services looking for a missing swimmer on the Far South Coast over two-and-a-half days has been a huge waste. There is no missing man, the story is a big fat lie designed to escape alleged fraud charges.
A land, air, and sea search was launched just before dusk on Wednesday (August 14) from Gillards Beach between Tathra and Bermagui.
The story was that a 42-year-old Victorian man had gone for a swim and not returned.
Police at the time reported that the man’s brother had found his sibling’s belongings on the beach and raised the alarm.
None of it is true and has been revealed as a hoax with the man now on the run from police.
An extraordinary effort involving PolAir, Eden Water Police, NSW Ambulance, State Emergency Service, Marine Rescue NSW, Surf Rescue NSW, the Westpac Surf Life Saver Helicopter and Drone, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service has been combing the coast – all in vain over Thursday and Friday.
Estimates put the cost of the whole operation at around $1 million.
Chief Inspector Peter Volf says every effort will be made to bring the alleged fraudster to justice.
“It’s very disappointing, so much expense and time wasted making every effort to find this man at sea.”
“It was a very well run police operation by Marine Area Command and local police, supported by good detective work, a great multi-agency operation the community can be proud of.”
The man, who it seems invented an identical twin as part of the scam, is more devious than violent and isn’t considered a danger to the public.
Speaking with Region Media Stephen Leahy, CEO of the Westpac Life Saver Helicopter says if the court allows, they will look to recoup expenses from what he describes as a “malicious, well thought out hoax.”
“It has cost us almost $33,000, it’s $3,500 per hour to run the chopper,” he says.
The Life Saver chopper crew spent nine-and-a-half hours in the air, but a total of around 20 hours on the job, even starting at 6 am with first light on the first day of the search, rather than the usual 8 am start.
“Our funding comes from a range of sources, community donations is one of them so this is very disapointing,” he says.
“This shouldn’t stop people from calling Triple 0 (000) if they think someone needs help, mistakes happen, that’s life, but this is a criminal hoax.”