California couple feared missing in Peru turn up on safe on river boat

Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:23pm EST
 

By Terry Wade

LIMA (Reuters) - 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.   Continued...