Belfast Telegraph

PSNI sparked Highlands search for missing hiker

By RICKY THOMPSON

The hunt for a missing pensioner shifted from Northern Ireland to Scotland after police here forced their way into his home and discovered a calendar detailing his plans to hike through a precarious mountain range.

Michael O'Grady, from Irvinestown in Co Fermanagh, has not been seen for almost three weeks.

Concerned friends of Mr O'Grady contacted police when they were unable to reach him.

Officers from the PSNI visited his home and when they couldn't get a response, entered the property.

Inside they found Mr O'Grady's calendar, which included details of his plans to go hillwalking in Scotland.

Scottish police yesterday told of the challenges posed by the huge search operation in the vicinity of Ben Alder.

Chief Inspector Mike Whitford, area commander for Perth and Kinross police, said Mr O'Grady was "a very experienced hillwalker and mountaineer".

"We believe he came across from Northern Ireland on about December 20 or 21 and he travelled up and left his car in a really desolate part of Scotland," he said.

"It's one of the biggest wildernesses in Europe," added the senior officer.

He detailed the last known movements of Mr O'Grady.

The pensioner stayed at a youth hostel on the night of December 21.

The police know he then followed a path next to Loch Ossian where he met hikers who were camping in what Mr Whitford described as "blizzard conditions".

The walkers later reported to a hostel warden that they had spoken with Mr O'Grady.

"From where these individuals saw him, he has a limited number of places he could be going, and he stated to them that his intention was to go to one of two bothies," the police officer told Radio Ulster's Talkback.

"These are old houses that people use for shelter as a base to go climbing from.

"We've ended up bringing in mountain rescue teams from Teesside, as well as from the Cairngorms, and we're in discussions with mountain rescue teams from Fort William.

"We've been supported by the RAF, who have flown a helicopter in, but we haven't managed to find any signs of him at all."

The keen hillwalker was visiting the Ben Alder and Loch Ossian areas of Scotland on Sunday, December 22 when he went missing.

Mr O'Grady is described as being 5ft 6ins, of slim build and with grey hair.

Meanwhile, police in Scotland have reopened the investigation into the disappearance of Enniskillen woman Nollaig O'Connor who has been missing since May last year. The 37-year-old, who had been studying music in Aberdeen, stopped contacting her family after going travelling.

BACKGROUND

Michael O'Grady was last seen leaving the Loch Ossian youth hostel intending to walk to Culra Bothy. The Ben Alder area is one of the most desolate areas in Scotland.

It's also the east-west transition where the peaks of the west steadily transform to the towering rounded hills of the east. Because of the size of the hills and the "halfway house" situation, the area often receives a lot of snow and ice during the winter.

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