An underwater search expert said the case of missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley is a “complete mystery”, after his team could not find her.
Peter Faulding, who was called in by the family to help find Ms Bulley, met her partner Paul Ansell on Wednesday, as day 12 of the search continued in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, and told him she had still not been found.
The mortgage adviser, 45, vanished on January 27 after dropping her two daughters – aged six and nine – at school, then taking her springer spaniel Willow for a walk along the river.
Ms Bulley’s phone was left on the bench near the river, still connected to a work call, with the dog lead and harness found close by.
But he said their three-day involvement ended on Wednesday after a “thorough and extensive search of the areas we were tasked with by Lancashire Police” found “no sign of Nicola”.
On what he thinks happened to her, he told the PA news agency: “It’s a total mystery for me, I really don’t know.
“In all the searches I’ve done, this is one which will stick with me.
“Normally we get tasked with, you know, searching for a knife or a body and there’s been a witness to a drowning or we’ve got really good intelligence.
“I’m glad really that we haven’t found Nicola because I didn’t want to recover another dead body.
“It just opens it up, is she alive, is she dead?
“Did she go in the river or didn’t she?
“And I can’t say one way or another.
“I’m baffled by it and I think most people are.”
“That’s not nice and they’re clearly in distress and they’ve got no answers and nobody can give them any answers.
“It’s difficult, we’re all banging our heads together really.
“Our involvement is we’ve searched it extremely thoroughly and we’ve ruled out, especially, the area where Nicola supposedly went in all the way down to the first weir and then onward down the river quite a distance.
“And then that’s my area cleared then, and we went upstream as well for about a mile upstream just in case, so it’s been extremely thorough.
Search teams from Lancashire Police and the Coastguard, including divers, are now focusing on the 10 miles or so of river downstream of the bench, where the River Wyre empties into the sea at Morecambe Bay.
Superintendent Sally Riley, of Lancashire Police, described the search as “unprecedented”, with 40 detectives following 500 lines of inquiry, with thousands of pieces of information coming in from the public.
And officers were trying to trace dashcam footage from 700 drivers who went through the village on the morning Ms Bulley disappeared.
But Supt Riley ruled out criminal or third-party involvement and on Tuesday reiterated the police’s belief that Ms Bulley had fallen into the river, with her body still unrecovered and police treating the incident as a missing person inquiry.