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Search for missing British tourist may come to an end after ‘very credible’ tip

A photo of missing British tourist Tom Billings, 22, is displayed as his father Martin Billings speaks to the media during a news conference at Vancouver Police headquarters in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday December 9, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The search for a young British tourist who went missing in Vancouver more than a month ago could soon come to an end with a new and "very credible" tip, according to North Shore Rescue.

Two hikers not only saw Thomas Billings in the Lynn Headwaters area on Nov. 25, but had a lengthy conversation with him about his plans for the day, North Shore Rescue leader Tim Jones said Monday.

"They were at the upper part of Lynn Loop Trail, at a sign post," Mr. Jones said. "He was specifically asking questions to get to Crown [Mountain]. They specifically told him not to do it and it would take too long, but he said, 'Don't worry, I'm going to go straight through … go through Grouse and then back to where I'm staying in Vancouver.' "

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The hikers positively identified both his face and his well-worn hiking boots, Mr. Jones said. They described him as a very pleasant and good looking young man and said they suggested alternate routes for him to take.

"But his profile matches exactly what we've been given: He's a hard-charging Brit," Mr. Jones said. "So that's what he was going to do."

Before that encounter at about 2 p.m., Mr. Billings, 22, was last seen around 9 a.m. that same day in the 1400-block of East Broadway, near the residence at which he was staying. His stop in Vancouver was part of a larger North American trip that included stops in New York, Las Vegas and Seattle. He was supposed to re-enter the U.S. at the end of November before flying back to England on Dec. 7.

A search of Mr. Billings' computer showed he had researched several hiking destinations – including Grouse Mountain, Lynn Canyon and Golden Ears – but not Lynn Headwaters. There was no credible information in two previous reports of sightings, and not even the person Mr. Billings was staying with knew where he went, Mr. Jones said.

Since Dec. 4, North Shore Rescue has searched Lynn Headwaters, Crown Mountain, Grouse Mountain, Mount Seymour and parts of Cypress. But with little information to go on, crews did not have any one area to concentrate on.

Based on their understanding of his movements and time and distance travelled, searchers now believe Mr. Billings ran into trouble near the base of Crown Mountain around nightfall. As soon as weather conditions improve, possibly Tuesday, searchers will concentrate efforts on the one-kilometre radius along the mountain, bringing in air photo reconnaissance, a team of 12 members and avalanche dog teams.

"We feel it's a recovery operation," Mr. Jones said. Most likely, what he's done – why we can't see him from the air and why we haven't been able to find him – is that he's under a log or under a rock somewhere."

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If weather co-operates, Mr. Billings could be located this week, Mr. Jones said.

The hikers contacted North Shore Rescue on Saturday, after seeing aerial video footage the team disseminated through social media a day earlier. The three separate videos come with the same simple request: Set the video's resolution to 1080p HD, review it and email any anomalies to North Shore Rescue.

Earlier this month, Mr. Billings' father, Martin, made an emotional plea at a Vancouver news conference, asking anyone who may have seen his son to call police.

"I'd just like to make a plea to anybody who sees this to think, 'Did you see Tom?' If you did see him, please get in touch. We just hope that he can be found somewhere safe and [get] back to his normal life," he said.

"What I hope is he got to a warm place, where, maybe he's broken a leg or something, but he's able to keep warm enough to still be out there so that people could find him, but not able to move easily back down to the city."

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News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More


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