The family of a Brisbane backpacker missing in Central America has launched a desperate online appeal for help, as search teams struggle with difficult terrain to find him.
Michael Eather disappeared on January 23 in Guatemala, in a river tubing trip gone wrong.
A friend of the 23-year-old contacted his mother Tracy on January 24, telling her he had gone to the Cahabon River with a friend the day before and disappeared.
“It appears that in the early hours of the morning Michael and his friend had gone back to the river, we believe that it was in a tube and that they had all been doing the same activity earlier in the day,” his mother said.
“Unfortunately, their tube (or raft) capsized. They had been holding hands but got swept apart.”
Michael’s friend managed to cling to a rock and climb out, and according to the family was found the next day “wandering around confused in the jungle”.
“He was not sure whether Michael had managed to find a way out and we have not heard from Michael since.”
The Guatemalan police have been sending the family regular updates, with searches up and downstream aided by local emergency services, the Red Cross, the military and local communities.
However, the terrain and search conditions are “particularly hazardous”, the family said – the Cahabon River itself is popular with tourists for its intermediate and challenging whitewater sections.
His brother Brendan told the ABC the search was “too hard – they’re doing it, but we really need help.”
The family have started a GoFundMe page which has since raised more than $26,000 to help pay for specialist search equipment not available in Guatemala, as well as contributing to the cost of petrol and food for the rescue workers.
“We are so grateful to all who have been involved to date and especially Michael’s friends, who are over there searching for Michael,” his mother said.
“They have been amazing, particularly given the harsh terrain and very difficult conditions they are working in.”
While grateful for all the help they have received, the family was struggling to cope with the awful situation they’ve found themselves in.
“Obviously, we are all feeling extremely distressed and anxious and we want to do as much as we can to ensure Michael is found and brought home safely,” Ms Eather said.
But almost two weeks on with no sign of her son, Ms Eather told the ABC she is bracing herself for the reality her son might not be found alive.
“I’m realistic of what the situation or outcome possibly will be.”
His family said the qualified electrician has been travelling since August 2016, with plans to cover both North and South America.
Falling in love with Mexico, he decided to learn Spanish and spent time living with a local family.
“He was determined to improve his language skills.
“When Michael sets his mind to something, he really gives it his all.”