Search underway for missing 75yo

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 22 2016

Update: 6:56pm on Wednesday, March 23: The Search and Rescue teams from off-island are heading home, after making one last push to find David Hepper today. 

Allen Tonn, Search Manager for Nanaimo Search and Rescue said, "This was our last big push, we've covered off all the probable areas that we can. At this point in time, we're going to turn this back over to the RCMP, they'll continue the investigation."

Hepper was first reported missing around 5pm on Sunday. He was last seen at 9am as he left his house on Wild Cherry Terrace. The search began with Gabriola RCMP, Gabriola Fire, and the Nanaimo SAR team on Sunday night. Since then, Tonn said the SAR members have conducted a number of searches through the woods north of North Road, between the Elder Cedar grove and Wild Cherry/Whalebone.

Tonn said, "What kinds of searches? We've done a combination of walking trails, sweeping trails, yelling and calling, aerial searches with the RCMP helicopter and fixed wing aircraft, boats in the water, swimming in the water, shoulder to shoulder grid searches, walking grid searches, police dogs, civilian dogs, and everyone on Gabriola doing their searches.

"There's been no definitive sign since he was seen leaving the house."

Tonn said there has been a number of items found by the search parties (toques, hats, wallets, knives, sunglasses and more).

"It's a good indicator that we're finding stuff, but we're not finding him."

Tonn said one of the biggest things he's noticed with this search, "is the support from the community. I've done a number of searches over a number of years, it is rare to see the support we've had from Gabriola. We don't see that elsewhere, and it is appreciated."

Over 50 members of 12 different Search and Rescue teams from up and down Vancouver Island, as well as the Mainland, contributed to the search. An unknown number of Gabriolans also took part, walking trails in the woods surrounding the official search area.

Cpl. Markus Müntener, Detachment Commander for Gabriola RCMP, confirmed the main search by SAR teams was closed today.

"No clues were found, and the area was extensivly searched. The police investigation will continue forward.

"The Gabriola RCMP would like to thank all the agencies and members of the public who took part and assisted."

Müntener said any more details on the investigation will have to wait until he has had a chance to speak to Hepper's family.

Update: 12:34pm on Tuesday, March 22: As more and more members of the public volunteer to walk trails and help search for David Hepper, they are being encouraged to do so outside of the area north of North Road, between Barrett Road and Windecker Drive.

According to the Nanaimo Search and Rescue staff, members of the public who are going out to do searching on their own are being asked to stay on trails south of North Road. This would include the 707 Community Park. Cpl. Markus Müntener of the Gabirola RCMP said members of the public are expected to stay off private property and outside of the Gabriola Rod, Gun and Conservation club range.

Any members of the public out helping with the search are asked to stay on trails, and not go bushwacking, as the Search and Rescue (SAR) teams have dogs and people looking for tracks.

Müntener said over 1,000 person-hours have gone in to the seach so far, there are at least 50 volunteers from 10 different SAR teams from off island, along with the RCMP members and other volunteers from the public.

Update: 7:42am on Tuesday, March 22: More Search and Rescue teams, as well as Nanaimo RCMP will be on island on Tuesday, continuing the search for David Hepper. The SAR command centre has moved to the old Gabriola Fire Hall off North Road. Any members of the public wishing to help in today's search please head to the old Fire Hall to meet up with SAR staff to coordinate efforts. A group of volunteers will be meeting at the fire hall between 8:30am and 9am this morning. 

Search and Rescue members disembark on to Gabriola on Tuesday, March 22. Derek Kilbourn photo

Updated 11:36am on Monday, March 21: Nanaimo SAR continue to search for David Hepper with Gabriola RCMP. NSAR has set up their administration vehicle at the east end of Wild Cherry. Search and Rescue members from Vancouver Island arrived by ferry this morning to help, with teams coming from Cowichan Valley, Ladysmith, Saanich, Arrowsmith (Parksville/Qualicum), Comox, and Port Alberni. Also involved in the search is the RCMP helicopter based out of Courtenay; and volunteers from PEP Air/CASARA (Civil Air Search and Rescue Association) who are conducting an aerial search of the area.

Updated 11pm on Sunday, March 20:
Gabriola RCMP have said the man being searched for is 75-year old David Hepper, and have provided a photo of Hepper. If anyone has seen him since 9am on Sunday, March 20, they are asked to contact Gabriola RCMP immediately by calling 911.

Gabriola RCMP, Gabriola Fire Department members, along with an RCMP K9 Unit and Nanaimo Search & Rescue are currently searching the woods between Wild Cherry and the Whalebone area. Hepper was last seen entering the woods at the east end of Wild Cherry around 9am on Sunday. He was last seen wearing a grey jacket and jeans. RCMP have confirmed Hepper has not returned to his home.

Gabriolans who live in the areas surrounding the search area are being asked to check their yards and outbuildings in case the missing man has taken shelter there. This includes the entire area north of North Road between Wild Cherry and the Whalebone area, all the way down to Windecker and Jolly Brothers. Hepper is not considered dangerous to approach. Anyone who locates him is asked to call 911 immediately.

Gabriola RCMP and Fire Department members coordinate with Nanaimo Search and Rescue at the east end of Wild Cherry Terrace. Derek Kilbourn photo.