Search called off for missing Cowichan man

After an exhausting weekend with hundreds of boots on the ground, the official search for Tony Morley has been called off, although some efforts will continue.

The 79-year-old Morley was last seen on Sept. 21, and he is believed to have gone for a hike on Maple Mountain that afternoon. Since that time, Cowichan Search and Rescue has led efforts to find him.

Volunteers from the community and all over Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland joined SAR personnel for a ramped-up day-long search on Sunday, which yielded no results.

"There have been well over 2,000 search hours logged over the 23-square-kilometre search area and then some," said Cpl. Krista Hobday of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP.

"Local residents allowed access to their property, gave over their GPS after conducting their own searches, and shared their local knowledge with Cowichan Search and Rescue. The family of Mr. Morley has been very helpful to the searchers letting them know points of interest and Mr. Morley’s likely path," Hobday said.

Sunday’s intense efforts covered terrain described by SAR as "brutal."

"Different efforts are placed in different areas based on the probability that they will be successful in their search, such as thick brush versus roads and trails," SAR manager Tina Phillips said. "It isn’t that we don’t believe Mr. Morley is on the mountain; we have just exhausted all efforts and resources available to us to locate him. It’s so terribly hard to stop."

Phillips added that the entire group was exhausted, but noted that honks and waves from passing motorists gave them huge morale boosts.

"It can be discouraging after so many hours that nothing has been found," she acknowledged.

Cowichan SAR used resources in the search for Morley that had not been available to them, including a helicopter and a search dog that is new to the Juan de Fuca area.

Cowichan SAR plans to conduct their monthly training exercises in the Maple Mountain area to further the search.

"Our group is also using our regular training night [Oct. 7] as an opportunity to debrief this task," CSAR president Mitch Wright said. "We debrief after every task and training session, but this search has been exceptional in its length, scope and level of community involvement."

Morley’s family plans to continue searching on their own, and hopes area users will also watch for him.

"We would like to thank all of the many people that gave their time to help find my Dad," Morley’s daughter, Venessa Fischer, said. "If anyone does go hiking in the area, that they keep an eye open for any sign of him."