Police rescue teams gathered at dawn at Sublime Point in Leura yesterday to retrieve a body, most likely that of missing man Gary Tweddle.
The terrain they faced was perilous. An advance team of four set off shortly after 7.30am to check the conditions and see what equipment they might need.
The rescuers had to abseil 300 metres down a steep cliff to reach the heavily wooded valley floor where the body was believed to lie.
The body was spotted on Monday afternoon by an ambulance helicopter involved in a training exercise near bushland at Leura. It is near a rock climb known as Sweet Dreams.
Blue Mountains crime manager, Inspector Mick Bostock, said the area could only be reached by abseiling.
“That area of Leura can be extraordinarily dangerous at night due to cliffs and other risk factors including drop-offs and gullies,” he said.
“The body appears as though it’s wearing clothing. It’s very likely it is Gary but we will have to wait and see.”
The body is about 1.5 kilometres from the Fairmont Resort, where Mr Tweddle was last seen in the early hours of July 16 after a night out in Leura during a work conference with computer technology firm Oracle. Security footage showed him running out of the main foyer without his jacket or glasses just after midnight.
For the next 12 days, friends, colleagues and family joined emergency services personnel on one of the biggest searches ever in the Mountains. They put up hundreds of missing persons posters and door-knocked local residents in the areas around Leura and Wentworth Falls.
Mr Tweddle’s father, David, flew from England with his partner, and his mother, Carol, came from Queensland with her partner.
The missing man’s girlfriend, Anika Haigh, also searched. Ms Haigh posted a message on Facebook yesterday morning: “Good morning dearest family & friends — The sun is beginning to rise on a day that we have all been hoping would never come. A body has been found in the area of Gary’s disappearance and today it will be retrieved and identified. Please know that nothing has been confirmed at this stage but I hope in a few hours we will have an answer either way.”
The police rescue team descending the cliff yesterday were first to confirm that it was a body and then to evaluate whether it could be winched out by helicopter or would have to be carried out. As the Gazette went to press the operation was still in progress.
Last week police filed a brief of evidence with the State Coroner, declaring his disappearance as a suspected accidental death.
But questions were raised in media reports on the weekend that drugs may have been involved.
The reports suggested that, according to witnesses, the British-born computer salesman had asked about getting access to illegal substances while out to dinner with work colleagues at Silks Brasserie in Leura.
Blue Mountains Superintendent Darryl Jobson would not be drawn on the drug reports when contacted by The Gazette on Monday, referring the matter to Inspector Bostock, who said there was “no evidence to show that any person on the night [in that group] was using drugs”.
The Coroner will determine the circumstances surrounding Mr Tweddle’s death at a November 22 inquest.
An Oracle spokeswoman said their company “does not comment on matters that are under investigation by the authorities”.
“We will continue to co-operate fully with the SES and other authorities, including in regard to the inquest.”