California couple reported missing in Peru turn up on boat

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 26, 2013 7:54 PM

(Reuters) - A young California couple who were reported to be missing and feared kidnapped while on a cycling trip through Peru have turned up on a river boat in the Andean nation, the mother of one of the pair said in an online statement posted on Tuesday.

Peru's tourism ministry issued a separate statement from Lima, the capital, saying, "the American tourists are continuing to enjoy their trip in the Peruvian Amazon" and were safely on their way by river boat north to the border with Ecuador.

Garrett Hand and his girlfriend, Jamie Neal, both 25, had last been heard from by friends and family about a month ago, according to co-workers and a statement issued on Monday by the U.S. Embassy in Lima, the Peruvian capital.

The couple were said to have vanished while en route to Lima from Cusco, in the mountainous southeastern Peruvian interior near the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, an area where U.S. citizens have been warned by the embassy of kidnapping risks.

Friends and family said they worried the pair had been abducted and that their bank accounts had remained idle since they went missing.

But on Tuesday, Hand's mother, Francine Fitzgerald, posted a message on Facebook message saying she was informed by the U.S. Embassy and Peruvian authorities that the couple had since been spotted in a remote village in Peru and were now on a river boat.

She said she was told a plane was being sent to meet the couple but gave few other details of their whereabouts or well-being, adding that she would not be satisfied until receiving "proof of life" from her son.

"Proof of life is my son's voice on the phone and a picture of him holding the missing poster," she wrote.

The ministry of tourism said in its statement that the couple were in good health and surprised to learn that they had been reported as missing.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Steve Gorman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernard Orr)