The boyfriend of British hiker Esther Dingley has been questioned at length after he discovered her body on Monday.
Dan Colegate, 38, concentrated on the rocky terrain near where part of Esther’s skull had been found last month, police captain Jean Marc Bordinaro said, while maintaining that the most likely theory is that Esther died in an accident.
Colegate, who is not a suspect, found Esther’s body about 437 yards (400m) from the remote peak of Pic de la Glere which straddles the French Spanish border in the Pyrenees. Her skull had been found 656 yards (600m) away further south down a twisting path that experienced hikers have described as ‘treacherous’.
Esther, 37, went missing on November 22 while out on a solo hike in the Pyrenees.
Searches for her were called off due to bad weather but resumed in the spring. After the snow in the vast search area melted, Colegate covered hundreds of miles looking for the body of his girlfriend.
‘As the person who discovered the corpse of a missing person, he was questioned again at length,’ The Sun quoted ‘an investigative source’ as saying.
‘It was routine. There is so far zero evidence of a crime’
Esther’s body has now been taken to the French city of Toulouse to be examined by pathologists.
Dan Colegate (right), the boyfriend of British hiker Esther Dingley (left), has been questioned at length after he discovered her body on Monday. Police said the questioning was routine
Esther’s body was found 437 yards (400m) below Pic de la Glere by her boyfriend Mr Copeland on August 9 – approximately 109 yards (100m) from where part of her skull was found 18 days earlier
This is a map showing Esther’s route from when she parked her campervan in Benasque, Spain, on November 16 to August 9 when her remains were found 437 yards (400m) from Pic de la Glere
Forensics teams are also examining Esther’s phone in the hopes it could reveal clues about the nature of her death.
As Esther’s boyfriend, Colegate was among the first people authorities investigated after she was reported missing.
Data from his mobile phone along with credit card transactions confirmed that he had not left the village of Larroque-sur-l’Osse, 100 miles north of where Esther was found.
In an exclusive interview with MailOnline Captain Bordinaro defended his search team over their failure to locate the body ahead of Ms Dingley’s 38-year-old partner.
Police sources and the French prosecutor responsible for the case have blamed recent poor weather for the failure to locate the body in rough terrain.
Public prosecutor Christophe Amunzateguy said high winds and rain prevented the use of drones and a helicopter in the search.
Captain Bordinaro, head of the police in St Gaudans, said Mr Colegate was best placed to locate the skeletal remains on the 2300metre high peak.
‘Dan had paced the area up and down, taking Esther’s abilities into account,’ he said.
‘He is a good hiker, a professional, and he has hiked in the Alps before.’
Last month, human remains later confirmed to be Esther’s were found by Spanish hikers at Port de la Glere, a mountain pass on France ‘s border with Spain , just south of Bagneres-de-Luchon. The trail is known as Puerto de la Glera in Spanish
The camper van used by Esther Dingley and her boyfriend on the European tour remains in a compond belonging to the Spanish Civil Guard, in Besanquein, The Pyrenees
He blamed ‘terrible weather’ for failing to find Esther’s corpse before it was pinpointed by Mr Colegate.
‘We had already searched this area this winter with a helicopter and on foot, but we had been hampered by snow, our search was unsuccessful especially since it is very rugged terrain.
‘In the past few weeks, we haven’t been back to look specifically in this area. The Spanish investigators had surveyed this sector, but on the Spanish side.
‘Esther’s Dingley’s body was found at the northern slope of Pic de Gléré.
‘Her skull was discovered not far from the Port of Gléré, about 100 meters from where the rest of the body was found. It is a very hilly area.
‘The most probable hypothesis is that the skull was moved by an animal.’
Search teams directed to the area by Mr Colegate on Monday found Ms Dingley’s grey rucksack and a water bottle. Her yellow tent has not been found.
Police recovered her mobile phone – a £270 Redmi Note 9 Pro – and sent the camera to forensic officers for examination.
The phone was switched off for much of the walk to conserve battery, but police hope pictures stored in the memory and signals sent from the device may hold clues to the case.
A source told the Sun: ‘Phones are always crucial to solving cases like this. This is why the device will be picked over by the forensics officers working on the case.
‘As far as the ongoing investigation is concerned, it is easily the most important bit of equipment.’
The Oxford graduate had set out to hike alone from the Porte de la Glere to the Port de Venasque, a trek which follows the border between France and Spain.
The couple, both Oxford graduates, had been travelling around Europe in a camper van for years after quitting their careers and Durham home
She parked the couple’s campervan in a car park in Benasque, Spain, on November 21 and started the solo hike from the Spanish town of Benasque to Pic de Sauvegarde, a mountaintop in the Pyrenees.
Her last contact with anyone was when she sent Mr Colegate a selfie picture from the Pic de Sauvegarde mountain on November 22.
She was seen by several witnesses including an Olympic Spanish skier asking for some fruit hiking on the path leading up to the summit.
From there she planned to walk between Port de la Gléré and Port de Venasque – a route of some eight miles – before hiking back down from the mountains.
She turned her phone off after that to save the battery and was planning to spend that night at the Refuge de Venasque in France, which is unmanned.
In her last known message, sent to Colegate on November 22, Esther wrote: ‘Might dip into France. Hoping Refuge Venasque has a winter room. Keep you posted when can. Love you xxx’
No one knows if she stayed there and no one has reported seeing Esther alive after that.
Mr Colegate, who was staying at a farm in Gascony, France, raised the alarm on November 25, three days after he received her Whatsapp.
Police from Spain and France took part in the search in an area covering almost 700 miles.
Soldiers from the High Mountain Gendarmerie Platoon from Luchon as well as local hikers and mountain guides took part in the search.
But with the area blanketed by snow the search was called off until Spring and warmer weather had melted the snow along the twisting trails.
The couple, both Oxford graduates, had been travelling around Europe in a camper van for years after quitting their careers and Durham home.