The missing backpacker Esther Dingley who vanished in the Pyrenees last year had been ‘taking a break’ in her relationship at the time of her disappearance, according to a witness.
Ms Dingley, 37, an Oxford graduate, was last seen on November 22 as she made her way to the summit of the Pic de Sauveguard mountain, which straddles Spain and France.
The last communication from Ms Dingley was a selfie she had sent to her partner of 19 years Dan Colegate, from the top of the mountain.
Hiker Laura Adomaityte, 27, who lives in Spain and met Ms Dingley at a shelter just days before her disappearance, was asked to share details about the hikers ‘physical and emotional shape’ to the authorities.
Esther Dingley (pictured with her partner Daniel Colegate) disappeared on November 22 while solo hiking in the Pyrenees mountains
She said: ‘Esther said they were taking a break and didn’t know if they were going to get back together again.
‘When you’re not 100 per cent okay with your partner, you’re not going to be totally balanced emotionally.
‘She didn’t seem desperate to me but the last time we spoke was about a week before she went missing and in that space of time a person can have a lot of highs and lows.’
Ms Adomaityte added: ‘I spoke to the Spanish police two days after she was reported missing and told them everything I knew.
‘The British police called me last month after the Civil Guard rang me back to ask if they could pass on my number to them.
‘They wanted to know my opinion about how well prepared Esther had been in terms of the equipment she was carrying and the shape she was in physically as well as how she was emotionally.
‘They didn’t appear to me to be focusing on anything in particular. They just asked a lot of questions.’
Ms Adomaityte, who was born in Lithuania but is fluent in Spanish and knows the Pyrenees well, added: ‘The one thing that did surprise me about Esther was how little food she took with her on the last hike we did together.
‘We left on the afternoon of November 12 and returned the following day around midday.
‘Esther only took dried oats, a red pepper and a small lettuce. I ended up sharing the food I’d taken for myself when we reached a refuge for the night called Refugio de Pescadores, which included a can of tuna and potatoes we heated up in the evening and an apple the following morning.
‘She said she liked to travel light when she was in the mountains.
The last communication from Ms Dingley was a selfie she had sent to her partner (pictured together) from the top of the mountain
The hiker parked her Fiat camper in a car park in the Spanish town of Benasque on November 15 before setting off on her solo trek around the Pyrenees
‘If she made mistakes anywhere, it could have been the provisions she’d take because she was well-prepared in terms of equipment and very strong physically.’
Earlier this month, Mr Colegate rubbished claims that his partner was unhappy in their relationship, and revealed their final loving texts.
He told The Daily Mirror: ‘The fact no trace was found – and given the specifics of the weather, terrain and location – I lean towards somebody else being involved, even though that raises its own questions.’
Mr Colegate also revealed the couple’s final loving texts. One – sent by Ms Dingley – said: ‘I’m on a col/peak so can’t stop for too long. Can’t wait to read all your messages. Love you very much XXX having a really good time.’
Ms Dingley continued to keep her partner updated on her hike, saying in a later text she ‘might dip into France’ after heading for the Port de la Glere mountain pass.
The final time the couple spoke was via a video call. ‘We were both very happy to see each other so happy. We were also excited we’d be together again in a few days,’ Mr Colegate said.
Mr Colegate dismissed the theory that that his partner could have ‘voluntarily disappeared’ because she was unhappy in their relationship.
This theory was put forward by French Captain Jean-Marc Bordinaro in December, who has been leading the investigation into Ms Dingley.
He told The Times in December: ‘Esther Dingley wanted to continue with her current way of life, journeys in a camper van and sporting activities including hiking, whilst Daniel Colegate seems a little tired of this nomadic life.
Ms Dingley, who stayed at this 7,000ft Angel Orus Refuge (pictured) on November 17, had reached the peak of the mountain when she took the selfie
‘Did [she] want to go off on her own to live her life and organise her own disappearance? There is nothing enabling us to eliminate this working theory. This situation provoked some tensions within the couple, but nothing too much.’
Mr Colegate also dismissed questions over the state of his partner’s mental health, saying she had not suffered depression for almost a decade, and that she was incredibly physically fit – noting they had completed an 80-day, 1,000 mile hike that year.
Since Ms Dingley’s disappearance, Mr Colegate has worked with British charity LBT Global. His work has lead to a dossier outlining three theories behind her disappearance.
These are that she was involved in an accident, that she went missing on purpose, or that someone else harmed her.
In a moving statement released as part of the dossier he said: ‘Esther is simply the best person I’ve ever met. ‘She is kind, generous, compassionate, intelligent and creative.
‘She wears her heart on her sleeve and always sees the best in others.’
French police have dismissed the possibility that a third party may have been involved in her disappearance. Pictured: A map showing the likely route she was taking
He added the ‘real reason’ he loved her so much, ‘through the ups and downs of any normal relationship’ was her ‘unwavering goodness and commitment to doing what she feels is right.’
The police forces working on the Esther Dingley case say they have no leads pointing to any foul play but insist all theories are still on the table as mountain search teams wait for spring when they can resume operations after the Pyrenees snow thaws.
Mr Colegate and his partner met at Oxford University where they both studied. Ms Dingley was reading Economics while Mr Colegate studied Chemistry.
A book and memoir written by Colegate and later published titled ‘What Adventures Shall We Have Today?: Travelling from More to Less in Search of a Simpler Life’, published in June, said that after they both graduated with first class degrees, they settled into successful academic careers.
Last year, Colegate arranged for them to stay in a remote farmhouse in the Pyrenees village of Arreau, which they decided to return to when lockdown began earlier this year. But at the end of October, Ms Dingley set off alone for a hike.
On November 15, she parked their campervan in the village of Benasque, which has now become the site of the on-going investigation into her whereabouts.
The last person to see the hiker was Spanish Olympic skier Marti Vigo del Arco, who was coming down from Pico Salvaguardia with his girlfriend on November 22 at around 3pm as Ms Dingley was going up.
It is known that she reached the peak of the mountain because of a selfie she sent to Mr Colegate at the top, just before 4pm, and three days before she was expected to return to the Spanish village of Benasque.