(Recasts with statement from Peru's tourism ministry;
By Terry Wade
LIMA Feb 26 A young California couple feared by
family to have been abducted while on a cycling trip through
Peru have safely surfaced on a river boat headed for Ecuador,
surprised to learn they were subjects of an international
search, the Peruvian government said on Tuesday.
"The American tourists are continuing to enjoy their trip in
the Peruvian Amazon," the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism
said in a statement, adding that a national police official had
spoken with the couple and found them to be "in good health."
Garrett Hand and his girlfriend, Jamie Neal, both 25, had
last been heard from by friends and relatives 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 embassy said then that Peruvian authorities had mounted
a search for the pair, who are residents of Oakland, California.
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.
That advisory last month was widely interpreted as linked to
efforts by a remnant band of Maoist Shining Path rebels to repel
a government push to regain control of jungle valleys that are
rife with coca cultivation and cocaine trafficking.
Friends and family of Hand and Neal said they worried the
pair had been abducted and that their bank accounts had remained
idle since they disappeared.
But a day after relatives and co-workers went public with
efforts to organize a search for the couple, the Peruvian
government said national police had caught up with the duo in
the northern village of Angoteros along the Napo River.
SURPRISED BY CONCERN
The tourism ministry said the couple were passengers on a
boat headed up the river, a tributary of the Amazon, to a town
on the border with Ecuador.
The couple "were surprised by the concern generated by
family, friends and the international community after the
cessation of their communications in late January," a ministry
It added that the pair had been traveling overland by
bicycle, bus and river boat through remote areas where access to
telephones and the Internet was limited.
Meanwhile, Hand's mother, Francine Fitzgerald, posted a
message on Facebook saying she had been informed by U.S. Embassy
and Peruvian authorities that the couple were spotted in a
remote village and were now on a river boat.
She gave few other details but said 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.
ABC News reported on Tuesday that the tourism ministry was
sending a crew with video cameras to the location where the
couple's boat is scheduled to dock on Wednesday to show they are
alive and well.
The U.S. Embassy issued a separate statement saying it was
aware of "reports that the missing U.S. citizens have been
located," adding, "we are working with local authorities to
confirm those reports."
The location of the couple in northern Peru was reinforced
by previous accounts from police and officials of an ecological
community in the Amazonian region of Iquitos. They had told
Reuters earlier this week that Hand and Neal were seen embarking
on an upriver boat trip toward Ecuador on Feb. 16, three weeks
after their families had last heard from them.
(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney in San Francisco;
Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernard
Orr and Eric Walsh)