Fears are mounting for a former Bradford school pupil who has now been missing in dense jungle on a Malaysian island for six days.
Wildlife volunteer Gareth Huntley, 34, disappeared while on a short trek to a remote waterfall on Tioman Island where he had been helping monitor the welfare of sea turtles.
His mother Janet Southwell, from Bradford, has made desperate pleas to the Malaysian Government to step up its searches for her son who has vanished on the densely-wooded 29km by 6km island The City of London worker was a student at Woodhouse Grove School, Apperley Bridge, and last night its chaplain Dave Bonny said staff and pupils were naturally concerned for Mr Huntley’s welfare.
“I arrived after Mr Huntley had left, however, it’s true to say that staff and pupils at Woodhouse Grove will be hoping for his safe return and a happy outcome,” Mr Bonny said.
And the school’s marketing manager Sam Cadman, who knew Mr Huntley when they were both pupils, described him as a popular and relaxed character during his schooldays.
“Gareth was at the school with his elder brother Chris and younger brother Mark and the whole family really through themselves into school life,” Mrs Cadman said.
“Gareth was really relaxed and chilled – the most laid back prop forward the rugby team ever had. But he was also very actively involved going on rugby tours and things like that.
“He’s really nice and popular and all the social media sites are full of Old Grovians sharing information about what’s happened.
“Everyone just hopes this ends well for him and his family,” Mrs Cadman said.
Mr Huntley’s mother, who lives in Bradford, has flown to Malaysia to join in the search and has previously criticised local authorities for not acting swiftly enough.
His family fear he may have been injured after a fall while walking on his own or may have suffered a snake bite.
Mrs Southwell wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron asking for him to contact the Malaysian government and said in her letter: “Please make one phone call to insist they deploy real help to find Gareth before time runs out,” she wrote.
“He is out there in the jungle and he needs help.”
And after a face-to-face meeting in Johor Baru, Malaysia Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he had obtained guarantees everything was now being done.
“I raised the ongoing search on Tioman Island with the Malaysian Government to check they have all the resources they require,”
“They assure me that they do and that they are doing everything they can to find Gareth. We will continue to keep in regular contact with the Malaysian civil authorities leading the search,” said Mr Hammond, who was in Southern Malaysia over the weekend for a meeting of the Five Power Defence Arrangement at which defence chiefs from the UK, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia discuss mutual interests in the region.
Reports from Malaysia say there is currently no suspicion of criminal involvement in Mr Huntley’s disappearance.
Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein confirmed that the issue was raised during a bilateral meeting with Mr Hammond.
He said the coastguard and all other related bodies would continue to aid in the search for Mr Huntley who had been working at Juara Turtle Project in Kampung Juara while on a sabbatical break and was preparing to leave the island for Singapore.