After seven days of combing the Merritt, B.C., backcountry for a missing cowboy amid frigid conditions, officials have suspended their search.
Sixteen search and rescue teams from across B.C., along with three dog teams and two aircraft, were active Sunday, looking for Nicola Ranch manager Ben Tyner before the search was called off.
Tyner was last seen on Saturday, Jan. 26. His horse was found saddled but riderless two days later, sparking the search.
“We are into day seven, we’ve covered a lot of terrain, we’re quite confident that most of the terrain that we’ve covered is our highest probability,” said Merritt RCMP spokesperson Const. Tracy Dunsmore.
“Without any further evidence to look anywhere else, with the weather … it’s very icy, we have a skiff of snow, so its becoming dangerous for the searchers and they’ve been out for seven days so fatigue starting to set in.
“We call it a suspension, so our file is ongoing, the RCMP will continue to investigate. If we find another area that we need to search or find other evidence that we need to search we can cal the search back on and look in those areas.”
Search-and-rescue incident commander Paul Berry said crews had turned their attention towards drainages and rivers downhill from where Tyner’s horse was found.
WATCH: Search continues for missing cowboy near Merritt
“Downhill travel is very common for people who are lost or injured, or it’s a place to get out of the weather,” said Berry. “Each of those drainages is being searched by teams of three.
“Teams were dropped by helicopter up in the higher elevations earlier this morning. They were working at temperatures of -24 C at elevation and winds and snow, so difficult search conditions today.”
There has been some speculation that Tyner’s horse was transported to the area by trailer, though police have downplayed any suspicions of foul play.
Berry said it’s still unclear how the horse ended up in the location where it was found by hunter Kim Robinson on Monday.
WATCH: Search underway near Merritt for missing cowboy
“Part of the work we’ve been trying to do is piece together a timeline and piece together information about how Ben was transported — was he transported by a trailer — and we don’t have any confirmation of that at all,” he said.
“Nothing has been identified at this point to indicate Ben or any of his footprints or any sign of Ben in relation to the horse.”
Berry said that as the search has continued, the Merritt community has been doing its best to support Tyner’s family, who travelled to the area from Wyoming on Tuesday.
“We’ve had a great opportunity to meet with the family on a daily basis. Clearly, this is a family that is deeply worried about their son,” said Berry.
“They are fully aware of the weather conditions that we’re operating in and that a search can only go on so long, but they are a wonderful family and are being very supported by people here in the Nicola Valley.”