Couple thought to be missing in Peru located

February 26, 2013 6:46:51 PM PST
The Oakland couple believed to be missing in Peru has been found safe near the border of Ecuador, according to Peruvian officials.

Garrett Hand and his girlfriend Jamie Neal are on a six-month cycling trip through South America. They've been out of touch for a month, which convinced family and friends something was wrong.

Both families received phone calls Tuesday from both U.S. and Peruvian officials, notifying them that the couple is safe. Both families are expected to hear from their loved ones by telephone some time Wednesday morning.

Despite the encouraging news, Hand's mother, Francine Fitzgerald is not celebrating yet. She has posted a statement on her front door in Concord.

It says: "Until we have proof of life, we cannot celebrate these rumors and sightings. Proof of life is my son's voice on the phone and a picture of him holding the missing poster."

Calls to the family members of Hand and Neal started coming in at about 2 p.m. Tuesday from both the U.S. Embassy and the Peruvian government, notifying them that the couple was safe and on a boat in a remote part of the Amazon.

The news was a tremendous relief for the families. The couple had been posting regularly on Facebook but they had not posted anything or contacted their families for a full month.

"I'm excited," said Jennifer Neal, Jamie Neal's sister. "But I still want to hear my sister's voice. As her sister, I still want to hear her voice, just to know."

Jamie Neal is on leave from The Pedaler Bike Shop in El Sobrante, where the owner had launched a search effort of his own. He even offered a $4,000 reward for information leading to the couple's safe return.

He too was greatly relieved to hear the news about the couple Tuesday. "I'm feeling great. I'm very, very happy. They're supposed to be able to get Internet access tomorrow so I'm sure there'll be a lot of us talking to them tomorrow," he said.

Peruvian tourist officials say the boat the couple is on is supposed to reach land some time Wednesday near the border of Ecuador. At that point, the plan is to get the couple to a satellite telephone so they can call their families directly.


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