British tourist missing in southern Israeli desert
August 2, 2020
A British tourist is missing in the southern Israeli desert and has not been seen for seven weeks, it has emerged.
Oliver McAfee, 29, from Essex, had been travelling for several months but was due to fly home on December 1 and had plans to settle down and buy a house.
He disappeared towards the end of November while cycling alone along the Israel National Trail, having made a “bucket list” visit to an observatory in the Negev desert that he had always wanted to see.
His brother, Matthew McAfee, 32, said the family was “devastated” and could do little but sit by the phone and wait for news from Israel, where a huge search operation has been underway for two weeks.
“I don’t think anyone can really understand what has happened,” he told The Telegraph. “All the signs were that he was coming home.”
Oliver, who was raised in Dromore, Northern Ireland, worked as a gardener in Essex and was a seasoned traveller, having spent months abroad volunteering with various charity projects.
However, he had told friends and family he was coming home, had booked an easyJet ticket and made arrangements to stay with friends in Chelmsford until he found himself somewhere to live.
He had been staying with a female friend in Israel but left her home in November to visit the Wise Observatory, several miles from the city of Mitzpe Ramon, taking his tent and all his belongings.
He set up camp in the desert at a spot a 90 minute walk from the landmark, which is owned by Tel Aviv university. His bag, containing his wallet, phone, tablet computer and camera, was found at the site.
The last known person to speak to him is believed to have been an American tourist who was also on a cycle trek in the desert and gave him some water on November 21.
When he failed to return home last month, friends contacted his family and the alarm was raised with Essex Police.
Matthew, who lives with his wife and three children in Belfast, added: “We had begun to get concerned but equally, it was not unusual for Oliver to go off the radar for a while.
“Our concerns were initially dismissed by the police who said it was not a high risk case but when we eventually managed to get the ball rolling and alert the Israeli authorities they revealed that his bag had been found at the observatory.
“They launched a massive search operation and found his tent. It has gradually widened over the last fortnight and includes soldiers, police, helicopters, bloodhounds and volunteers but they have not found any trace of my brother, or his passport which I assume he kept on him.”
The brothers’ mother, Paula, 63, died last January following a fall in hospital and while Oliver had appeared to have been coping with his grief, Matthew said he had been prone to bouts of depression in the past.
“We have just got the pictures from his camera which are a bit concerning,” he said. “The nature of them is just a bit out of character and suggests he might not have been quite himself.
“One of them showed a lot of litter and debris around his camp and that was just not like him at all.”
His uncle, Clive McAfee, said: “We are obviously devastated.
“It’s very unusual for someone to go off the grid in Israel for such a long time, the authorities have said it’s virtually unknown.
“It’s all quite odd, nothing’s really adding up.”
Oliver, a keen cyclist, had studied horticulture at university but had more recently travelled across Europe and to Mexico, where he helped a group from his local church build houses for disadvantaged people.
Inspector Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said: “Police are continuing a wide scale search of the southern Negev region.
“At the moment the area which we’re focusing on is down south near Mitzpe Ramon.”