The search in Costa Rica for David Gimelfarb, the missing 28-year-old doctoral student from Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, has grown from a local Red Cross effort to an international operation.
On Wednesday, the United States military sent two Blackhawk helicopters equipped with infrared trackers to assist in the search.
Gimelfarb’s family also has hired a private United Kingdom-based search and rescue company to help direct efforts on the ground and in the air.
As of Thursday morning, search teams reported no signs of Gimelfarb.
Gimelfarb arrived in Costa Rica alone over a week ago. He was staying at the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín in Guanacaste, northwest of San José, and was expected to spend five days, according to his Expedia booking.
On Tuesday morning, the young man left the hotel and drove to the Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja in Guanacaste to go hiking. Tomás Batalla, the owner of the hotel, said he was expected to return on Tuesday evening, but he never did.
Park rangers found Gimelfarb’s rental car, a 2009 Hyundai Tucson, in the park on Tuesday and said they last saw the Chicago resident enter the park at 10 a.m. that day. On Wednesday morning, park personnel and Costa Rican Red Cross officials from Liberia, the provincial capital of Guanacaste, began a search.
David’s parents – Ludmilla and Roma Gimelfarb – flew to Costa Rica last Thursday to help with the search efforts.
On Monday, Aug.17, rescuers from the San José Red Cross joined the Liberia team. Approximately 70 Costa Rican park rangers, policemen and volunteers are aiding in the search for the missing man inside the park.
Search teams made up of rescuers, horses and dogs have thoroughly combed most of the park. Freddy Román, a press officer for the Red Cross, said that rescuers formed several rappel groups on Wednesday, Aug.19, and are searching the park’s crevices in case Gimelfarb fell.
“The landscape of the park is pretty complicated,” Román said. “It’s a very detailed search, but it has been slow. The park is really big and we haven’t had the equipment until now to conduct a more intensive search.”
Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja covers more than 14,000 hectares (34,000 acres) of mountainous terrain. Thus far, the park’s dense canopy, heavy rainfall and thick cloud cover has impeded the aerial search.
Officials informed Gimelfarb’s family that the infrared and heat seeking helicopters may be the best way to locate their son. But strong winds on Wednesday afternoon forced even the U.S. Blackhawks to land without making any progress.
The search began again on Thursday morning at 5 a.m. Román said the Red Cross has not begun to search outside the park’s boundaries because all the evidence points to Gimelfarb being inside the park.
“That’s where he said he was going, that’s where he entered, that’s where his car was and that’s where he was last seen,” Román said. “So that’s where we search.”
While rescue teams are scanning the area for signs of Gimelfarb, family and friends are helping out any way they can.
Rathna Koka, a family friend and co-worker of Gimelfarb’s mother, accompanied the family to Costa Rica last week. She is handing out missing person flyers and buying food for search groups camped inside the park.
“The people in the area have been absolutely fantastic. They all want to help out,” she said. “We haven’t reached the point where we are giving up. If anything, we are ramping up.”
Friends in Chicago have started a group on Facebook, a social networking Web site, for friends to post messages and receive updates about the situation.
“Dave is seriously one of the nicest people I have ever met. I hope he is safe, wherever he is,” one of the messages reads.
Benjamin Dias, a friend and co-worker of the missing man, said some friends have begun raising funds in Chicago for the search and others have sent supplies to Costa Rica. And for Roma Gimelfarb, the hometown support has been greatly appreciated.
“We are holding up,” he said on Thursday morning. “We haven’t given up and we know there is hope. The support from home has really helped us out.”
Gimelfarb is a post-graduate student in psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. He is employed by the Kraft Foods Research and DevelopmentCenter in Glenview, a northern suburb of Chicago. He came to Costa Rica to release stress from his doctoral program and recover from the recent death of his grandmother.
Gimelfarb has blonde hair, light brown eyes and stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall, according to a police report.
Anyone with information about Gimelfarb’s disappearance is urged to contact the Liberia Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) at 2690-0218 ,or the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin at 2665-3212.