New search for man missing a year

Members of the Fiordland Search and Rescue team  look near the Manuherikia River for Mr Bates in...
Members of the Fiordland Search and Rescue team look near the Manuherikia River for Mr Bates in February last year. Photo: Tom Kitchin
In the week of the first anniversary of the disappearance of Alexandra man Christopher Bates, police and Land Search and Rescue volunteers will again comb an area near the Manuherikia River. Pam Jones talks to those at the centre of the search for a loved son, brother and friend.

Central Otago police and Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR) volunteers will comb an area near Alexandra today in another chapter of the search for missing Alexandra man Christopher Bates.

The last sighting of Christopher Bates, in a CCTV image from the Z fuel station on Tarbert St,...
The last sighting of Christopher Bates, in a CCTV image from the Z fuel station on Tarbert St, Alexandra, on February 11, 2018. Photo: NZ Police
The search will take place almost a year to the day from the last sighting of Mr Bates (22), on CCTV footage, buying a packet of cigarettes at the Z fuel station on Tarbert St, Alexandra, at 3.51pm on February 11, 2018.

Most of an area within a 3km radius of Mr Bates’ Alexandra home had been searched thoroughly since then, in keeping with search science, Central Otago LandSAR operations manager Adrian "Snow" Dance, who has headed the physical search operation, said.

About 70% of missing people were found within a 3km radius of their home, Mr Dance said.

Some other areas had also been searched for Mr Bates, including the Clutha River from Alexandra to the Roxburgh Dam, and other possible sightings throughout the country followed up, he said.

Detective Sergeant Derek Shaw, who has headed the inquiry into Mr Bates’ disappearance, said it was frustrating there had been no confirmed sightings of Mr Bates since February 11.

Today’s search, which is weather-dependent, will involve up to 15 searchers going over an area of dense vegetation and swamp near the Manuherikia River that has already been searched but will now be searched in more detail. The area was significantly affected by flooding in November last year, Det Sgt Shaw said.

Derek Shaw
Derek Shaw
The area is where the last cellphone signal from Mr Bates’ phone was picked up, on February 12, and beside an area where an empty cigarette packet of the brand of cigarettes Mr Bates smoked was later found.

Det Sgt Shaw said today’s searchers would be "a hard core of people who have really taken ownership of it [the search] and taken it quite personally, with a focus of finding Chris".

He said searchers wanted to do their "absolute best" for Mr Bates’ family.

"But it’s frustrating, and it does consume you to a degree, because you’ve got a file on your desk and you’re cracking your brain for ideas of where to look next and generally you’ve already looked there.

"We just haven’t had any sightings of him ... we’ve done a very serious search on some very limited information. ‘We’re working as hard as we can to get Chris back to his family."

Christopher Bates
Christopher Bates

Det Sgt Shaw said it was still one of the "mysteries" of the case, that Mr Bates had not been found when so many members of the public were in the Manuherikia River area walking, walking their dogs or fishing. He asked people to "remain vigilant" and report "anything unusual that may lead us to Chris".

Police had not discounted the possibility that Mr Bates was elsewhere in New Zealand, but that was a "very low probability", Det Sgt Shaw said.

"When Chris was reported missing to us, I had grave concerns for his safety and those concerns have not improved."

Mr Bates’ father, John Bates, and brother and sister-in-law, Jonathan and Sidonee Bates, said they wanted to to thank the community and Mr Bates’ friends for their continued support.

"He [Chris] will never be forgotten."

Mr Bates’ mother, Patricia Bates, said she wanted to thank police and searchers for everything they had done.

"I wish to acknowledge the huge effort the police, searchers and volunteers have made over the past 12 months."

pam.jones@odt.co.nz

 

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