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Saturday 21 October 2017
News

Missing hiker found dead off precipice

Rescue helicopter takes off to retrieve the body of the deceased hiker Richard Baird.

A family’s hope to find missing hiker Richard Baird alive faded yesterday when his decomposing body was found down a 600-foot precipice in Aripo.

Baird, 55, went missing on Saturday after a hike to Aripo waterfall with a 65-member party from Fitness Focus club. The hikers set off at 5.54 am on the five mile trek to the waterfall, spending the afternoon there before preparing to return to Mt Poui Road, Arima, where the hike began, at about 5.30 pm. When they got to the starting point they realised Baird was not with them.

“He was an experienced hiker,” Trevor Pantin, Baird’s elder brother told reporters at the Aripo Community Centre, where relatives assembled after learning he had been found. It was not the news they had prayed for.

“I wasn’t thinking negative, I was always thinking positive,” Pantin said.

One of the last people to see Baird was his daughter-in-law, Madea Baird, an experienced hiker who was part of the hiking group. Pantin said Madea last saw Baird as he was putting on his backpack, and called out to let him know she was going ahead with some of the hikers. Baird, a father of five, was in the back with about six others.

It remains unclear what happened to Baird. His body had to remain in the Aripo forest last evening as a National Operations Centre helicopter was unable to land on the terrain due to fading light.

Since Saturday, several searches were made for the Petrotrin manager by a team of hikers, soldiers, police and fire officers, as well as volunteers. At about mid-day yesterday, a search party was on the same trail when they were drawn by a stench emanating from a precipice.

Some of the hikers, with the assistance of soldiers, rappelled down the precipice where they found Baird’s body. A helicopter was on stand-by at a field near the community centre to fly out the district medical officer and a few crime scene investigators but this exercise has been postponed to today.

Pantin said Baird was healthy and dispelled reports he had diabetes and may have suffered a drop in his blood sugar, causing him to fall behind. He questioned how none of the guides, and other hikers experienced with the trail did not notice Baird was not among them.

“They should have somebody in the front, somebody in the middle and somebody on the end. The person in the back should leave nobody behind,” said Pantin. “Even by chance, if a person is sick, the person in the back should stay right through. I’m not putting any blame on anybody. But I’m saying that if you’re going on a hike, it is my view that there should be a line of people. The last man should always have somebody there.”

Baird’s eldest son, Kern, said he encouraged his father, who was fit, to go on the hike.

“He’s into fitness. He does swimming, he does walks and he hikes,” said Kern, adding his father introduced him to hiking when he was a scout.

He admits his father was not familiar with the Aripo trail.

“This trail is a designated nine difficulty and it’s a trail you will get a burn from. Hence why I encouraged him to do it because he is into fitness,” he said.

Kern said he always kept faith that his father would be found.

“I never had a doubt, even when they said they found a body and said it still needed to be confirmed, I still had hope,” he said. “I’m not shaken as yet. I need to be strong for my family.”

Despite his loss, Kern said he did not blame the hike’s organisers and thanked all who helped to search for his father.

Aripo resident Richard “Caesar” Valentine, a member of yesterday’s search team, said the terrain leading to Aripo waterfall “is very bad”. Head of Fitness Focus Mario Russell, who had been with the team searching for Baird since Saturday, said yesterday he was deeply shaken by the incident and is considering discontinuing the hike, popular among members, as part of the club’s activities.

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