Liat search support 'amazing'

The brother of missing Israeli tramper Liat Okin has been floored by an outpouring of community support in Queenstown as he launches a private search for his sister.

Ms Okin (35) vanished while walking the Routeburn Track on March 26, and a three-week search by police, search and rescue squad members and Department of Conservation rangers failed to find her.

The official search was called off on Tuesday night, but a team of experienced volunteers flew into the area by helicopter yesterday to begin a private search.

Ms Okin's brother, Itamar Tas, said the team would remain on the track until at least Sunday, with a plan for reinforcements to join the hunt on Sunday.

The search was led by Israeli search and rescue expert Hilik Magnus, who flew in from India, and Mr Tas is co-ordinating the logistics of keeping the volunteers supplied with food and equipment.

Searchers planned to "think out of the square'' while retracing some of the steps his sister may have taken, Mr Tas said.

"If the logical way didn't work, we might need a little bit of creative thinking.''

He said he was in radio contact with searchers on the track, and was relaying news to his parents in Israel each night.

A trust fund - the Liat Okin Charitable Trust - had been established to fund the search, which was costing thousands of dollars per day, Mr Tas said.

Donations were slowly coming in - many from Israel - and Mr Tas said his parents were prepared to sell their home in Israel to help fund the search. The family were committed to continuing the search indefinitely, he said.

Mr Tas has been overwhelmed by offers of support from the Queenstown community since arriving on April 11.

One man had offered his Queenstown holiday home to Mr Tas, friend Joe Kariv and cousin Ofer Avidar, and a helicopter pilot flew supplies into the search area yesterday morning free, saving several thousand dollars, Mr Tas said.

Queenstown police, many exhausted after long hours searching, had lent radio equipment to the volunteers, and some of those involved in the official search had volunteered to continue as part of the private effort, Mr Tas said.

"We get a lot of support from the local people - it's really, really amazing how much - and it helps,'' he said.

Donations to the Liat Okin Charitable Trust can be made at the ASB Bank, reference OKI2161.

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