Police are today carrying out a forensic search for clues at the site where British hiker Esther Dingley’s remains were found by her boyfriend.
French detectives were led there by her boyfriend, Dan Colegate, on Monday as investigators look for clues as to how the experienced hiker died in the Pyrenees.
Colegate, 38, discovered Esther’s corpse on Monday afternoon after scouring the route the 37-year-old took before she vanished last November during a solo hike.
‘Crime investigators are still at the scene,’ said a source involved in the hunt for more evidence on Wednesday.
‘They have set up a survey area in the spot where the missing person’s body was recovered. Some of her equipment was found, but not all of it.’
The team are made of Criminal Investigation Technicians from Toulouse, supported by high mountain police from nearby Luchon, and military personnel.
The ‘skeletal remains’ were close to where a portion of Esther’s skull was discovered two weeks ago.
There was no immediate information as to how police managed to miss the human remains for so long, but the source said it was in a ‘natural hideway’, such as a gully or cave.
The grim discovery came hours after French investigators admitted for the first time that Esther’s death may have been a murder and they ‘are not closing the door to any hypothesis’.
Esther went missing on November 22 while solo hiking in the Pyrenees. She was reported missing by Colegate on November 24, just a day before her trip was due to end, sparking a massive manhunt.
The search was suspended in December due to deteriorating weather but resumed in the Spring and human remains, later confirmed to be a piece of Esther’s skull, were found a fortnight ago.
The rest of the body of Esther Dingley, (pictured with boyfriend Dan Colegate) the British hiker who went missing in the Pyrenees late last year, has been found
Esther’s remains and equipment were found by boyfriend Dan Colegate on Monday as he scoured the routes the 37-year-old took
A team of forensic specialists and mountain rescue personnel were sent yesterday to the site where her remains were found to ‘catalogue the scene and recover Esther’ said an investigating source.
‘They have set up a survey area in the spot where the missing person’s body was recovered, and are gathering as much new evidence as possible.
‘Some of her equipment was recovered, but the yellow tent is not among the articles found.’
Missing equipment including Esther’s Lanshun ½ Ultralight tent have always been considered crucial to solving the mystery, because of the forensic clues they are likely to yield.
The tent is made of nylon, silicon and aluminium, and so would last in the wilds of the Pyrenees for days, despite exposure to the elements.
Colegate announced Esther’s remains had been found in a statement yesterday, adding an accident was ‘the most likely hypothesis, given the location and other early indications.
‘A full investigation is underway to confirm the details surrounding this tragedy.
‘The family remain incredibly grateful for the efforts of the police units involved and their commitment to understanding the exact circumstances of Esther’s death’, the statement added.
Police on Monday night said publicly for the first time that police are not ruling out that her death may not have been accidental.
Christophe Amunzateguy, the French prosecutor leading the probe told The Sun: ‘The aim is to put forward a scenario to explain the disappearance of Esther Dingley,
‘To find out what may have happened — whether it was an accidental thesis, or a criminal thesis, because we are not closing the door to any hypothesis.’
Privately, French and Spanish police are known to have put murder low down on their list of theories and believe the Oxford graduate suffered a mountain accident.
She had numerous pieces of kit with her at the time of her disappearance, including a bright red and grey rucksack and a distinctive yellow tent.
Investigators suggested that Esther’s remains may have been moved to the well-trodden trail where the intial bone fragment was discovered, after the hiker perhaps died in a fall.
French police chief Jean-Marc Bordinaro suggested animals could have dragged the remains to the spot where they were discovered.
‘Everything suggests that these bones were recently moved by animals. They would not have been there a few days earlier’, he said.
Brown bears and wolves are among the creatures roaming freely in the mountain range, where birds of prey such as vultures are also a common sight.
‘When this clothing and kit does turn up, it is likely to answer a lot of questions — or pose some more’, The Sun reported a spokesman for Esther’s family as saying.
‘Finding out what happened remains a priority’.
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 37-year-old Oxford graduate had numerous pieces of kit with her at the time of her disappearance, including a bright red and grey rucksack and a distinctive yellow tent which are yet to be found
Oxford graduate Esther Dingley disappeared while on a solo-hike in the Pyrenees in November
Dingley had planned a solo hike from the Spanish town of Benasque to Pic de Sauvegarde, a mountaintop in the Pyrenees – which she reached on November 22, sending Colegate a picture via WhatsApp, which was their last contact.
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.
But after two days without contact, Colegate reported Esther missing on November 24, just a day before her trip was due to end, sparking a massive manhunt.
Dan Colegate and Esther’s mother Ria Bryant, 74, are assisting with the investigation.
Colegate has expressed disbelief at the theory that Esther may have died after becoming injured during her solo hike as she was an experienced hiker who should have had no problem with the route she is believed to have taken.
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’
Colegate wrote a 23-page report about Esther’s plans to do a circular hike between Spain and France which involved sleeping at a mountain refuge.
He said in his dossier: ‘An individual that Esther met on November 19 came forward to say he had specifically suggested this route through France, between Port de Venasque and Port de la Glere, to Esther when he met her. There is no reason to think that Esther did not stick to this plan.’
Esther went missing on November 22 while out hiking in the Pyrenees, and last month, human remains were found by Spanish hikers at Port de la Glere, a mountain pass on France ‘s border with Spain
The 37-year-old from Durham was on a month-long solo trip and was supposed to return on November 24
The pass where Esther Dingley went missing was part of an area described as an ‘easy’ walk for the British hiker by her boyfriend
In a section titled ‘Esther’s Planned Onward Route’, he suggested she reached the mountain refuge in France and slept there overnight before continuing a hike to return to her initial starting point in Spain.
He said: ‘Her onward route would have involved a descent northwards towards the Hospice de France, a flat traverse westwards around the Imperatrice Way, and a climb southwards to the border at Port de la Glere. From the border the route descends back towards Hospital de Benasque.
‘This route would have been well within Esther’s capabilities for a day hike, in addition to the fact she had a tent, camping equipment and significant experience using it.
‘Distance was 16km with 1100 metres of ascent, five to seven hours of hiking time. The weather remained excellent that Monday. The route is very obvious on the ground and also from the terrain when starting from Refuge de Venasque.
‘It’s basically impossible to get lost in good visibility here. The entire route is a well-made and easy to follow path. Although Esther believed and had warned family that there was poor signal in the area, in fact the signal is very good on the French side.
‘Within half an hour of leaving the refuge, Esther should have been able to use her phone for most of the rest of the day.’
The couple, both Oxford graduates, had been travelling around Europe in a camper van for years after quitting their careers and Durham home.
Dingley’s boyfriend Dan Colegate (left) has expressed disbelief at the theory that Esther may have died after becoming injured during her solo hike as she was an experienced hiker who should have had no problem with the route she is believed to have taken
Esther’s partner of 20 years Dan Colegate (pictured together) claimed in a recent BBC interview he ‘could no longer agree’ with the idea she had suffered an accident
Dingley (pictured with boyfriend Colegate) was seen by several witnesses including an Olympic Spanish skier asking for some fruit hiking on the path leading up to the summit