THE family of a man who went missing for two days has thanked police for their help in the search.
John Everatt, a retired schoolmaster, went missing in Durham City in September and was found safe after an extensive search by emergency services.
The multi-agency operation involved Durham Constabulary, Teesdale and Weardale Mountain Rescue Team, the National Police Air Service, Coastguard, the Royal Air Force and many friends, neighbours and general public who all offered their support.
Inspector Andy Reeves from Durham Constabulary led the investigation to find the 70-year-old who has dementia.
Now Mr Everatt and his wife Christine have met Insp Reeves to pay their thanks for the joint search efforts which inevitably led to his safe return.
Mrs Everatt said: “John and I wanted to say a huge thank you to everybody who helped to reunite us.”
Insp Reeves, who is also a Police Search Advisor (PolSA), was called into action to head up the hunt, said: “We became increasingly concerned for the welfare John. He was classed as a ‘high-risk’ missing person which means that there is an immediate threat to life and a pool of resources were utilised to look for him.
“In the back of your mind, you know that the longer a search goes on, the less likely it is that there will be a good outcome. Time is always of the essence. After John’s last known position, there were no reported sightings of him which was unusual and left a wide berth of possible priority search areas.”
Mr Everatt, a keen walker, had set off on an amble into town and was last seen near the Town Hall before he went missing. He was found 29 hours later.
Insp Reeves continued: “I had to take in a lot information within a short space of time. In this type of investigation you get to really know a person; you find out a lot of details about their life; their likes and dislikes, where they go and the things they do. It helps to paint a picture of the life they lead and you use your knowledge and intuition to direct the search.
“While our officers went door-to-door and spoke to locals, it became very clear how well respected and highly thought of John was in the local community.”
Officers scoured the search area and combed through CCTV looking for clues into Mr Everatt’s disappearance.
The fire service employed side scan sonar equipment which uses electromagnetic waves to analyse objects in the water.
The National Police Air Service detected Mr Everatt on its second search and Insp Reeves showed the family a picture from the helicopter’s thermal imaging camera of the moment Mr Everatt was found at Frankland Lane.
Speaking to Insp Reeves, Mr Everatt said: “It is clear that you helped to save my life. What more can I say.”
Mrs Everatt said: “It was a very difficult time for all us. I was overwhelmed when John was found. It was such a relief. We are incredibly grateful for the support shown by the emergency services and wider community. How can we ever thank them enough?”
Insp Reeves added: “It was a fantastic moment when we knew that John was safe and well. This is the first time that I have met John in person, despite feeling like I already know him so it is a special moment for me.”
Mr Everatt retired from Durham School in 2008 after serving 37 years as a schoolmaster.