The search for Tourism and Water Minister Tim Holding was called off at nightfall on Monday, more than 30 hours after he was last seen hiking in Victoria’s Alpine National Park.
A team of 80 search and rescue personnel will resume their hunt at first light on Tuesday.
As bad weather hampered search efforts on Monday, Mr Holding’s family and partner rushed to Bright, about 300km northeast of Melbourne, where the rescue is being coordinated.
In a statement they said they were extremely confident that the minister would emerge unscathed.
“Tim is the strongest person we know, emotionally and physically,” they said. “We are grateful to everyone who is involved in the search in these difficult conditions.”
Holding ‘an experienced hiker’
Mr Holding, a former army reservist, set off alone on Saturday to tackle Victoria’s second highest peak – Mount Feathertop.
He sent a text message to his partner at 6.30pm (AEST) to say he had arrived at Federation Hut and expected to arrive home at 4pm on Sunday.
But he never returned, and was last seen by a group of hikers walking north towards the summit about 8.30am on Sunday.
Police have confirmed Mr Holding tried to phone his father, Bruce, about 10.30pm on Sunday but the signal was too weak for them to communicate.
Authorities say the minister was well prepared and is a fit and experienced hiker.
“Whilst we have concerns for his safety we continue to be optimistic and are doing everything we can to find him,” Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland said.
Wet, cold conditions
“Hopefully, he’s been able to hole up somewhere and get out of the worst of the weather.”
Heavy cloud grounded a rescue helicopter for most of the day, forcing crews to search on foot in wet and cold conditions.
Most of the search teams, including police, the State Emergency Service (SES) and volunteers from Search and Rescue Victoria, were expected to shelter at Federation Hut on Monday night.
Another six were camping on the western side of the mountain.
About 5,000 hikers tackle the 1,922 metre summit of Mount Feathertop every year, but few in winter and alone.
Locals say the track can be treacherous in snow, with nearby Mount Hotham recording a 89cm snow fall on Sunday.
“I haven’t got a good feeling about it, but that doesn’t mean much,” the operator of a Bright outdoor store, who gave his name only as Stephen, said.
Premier ‘hopeful’ of good news
“I’ve been here probably in Bright now 30 years and there’s been a few who have been lost and not been found for several months later, until the snow disappears.
“You only hope that they find him in good condition.”
Jenny Chalwell from the Bright Visitor Centre said she wouldn’t make the trek in winter.|
“It’s absolutely scenic, but it’s definitely summer trekking,” she said.
As the emergency deepened, fellow cabinet minister Lynne Kosky travelled to Bright to meet Mr Holding’s family.
Back in Melbourne, Victorian Premier John Brumby said he was hopeful Mr Holding would walk out safe and sound,
“He’s a person who’s very fit, he’s very determined, he’s done walks like Kokoda, he runs marathons, he’d been in the army reserve and he was very, very well prepared.
“Nevertheless, the conditions are very difficult. The conditions were very cold yesterday and even today visibility is very poor indeed.”