Rye Hunt disappeared while on a six-month trip around the world with his friend Mitchell Sheppard. Photo: Facebook Rye Hunt with his girlfriend, Bonnie Cuthbert. Photo: Facebook
Rye Hunt’s uncle Michael Wholohan and girlfriend Bonnie Cuthbert speaking with reporters in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. Photo: Laura McQuillan
Rio de Janeiro: Police investigating the disappearance of Tasmanian man Rye Hunt in Rio de Janeiro say they have received a report of a body sighted in the city’s harbour, but searchers have been unable to find it.
Mr Hunt has been missing since May 21 following an argument with travel companion Mitchell Sheppard at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport, where the pair had planned to buy plane tickets to Bolivia.
On Friday, lead investigator Elen Souto said a fishing boat reported spotting a body on Wednesday morning. The body was dressed in clothing similar to that worn by Mr Hunt when he was last seen.
The body was reportedly sighted near a small island, Ilha Rasa, some eight kilometres from Copacabana Beach.
However, two days of searches by police and the navy had been unable to find the body.
Police did not explain why they had not made the information public earlier.
The development follows a reported sighting of Mr Hunt by a man fishing on an uninhabited island, Ilha Cotunduba, near Copacabana Beach, on May 22.
The fisherman did not contact police until May 30. He said he had spoken to the man, who confirmed he was Australian, and said he had swum to the island.
However, searches on May 30 and May 31 found no sign of Mr Hunt.
Police made the latest information public shortly before Mr Hunt’s uncle Michael Wholohan and girlfriend Bonnie Cuthbert spoke to media in Rio de Janeiro.
The pair, who arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday night (local time), declined to comment on the latest revelations from police, and said they were hopeful Mr Hunt would still be found alive.
“What I hope for is for him to be found – I don’t know where, but healthy and safe, and that’s all I’m focusing on at the moment,” Ms Cuthbert said.
“We’re obviously very apprehensive, nervous but still very hopeful. At this point in time, we’ve had no confirmation of anything to say that anyone that has been sighted is Rye or anyone has seen Rye, so at this stage still very, very hopeful and determined to find him.”
Police said they would seek a DNA sample from Mr Wholohan to confirm the body’s identity if it was recovered.
Police believe Mr Hunt had taken the party drug MDMA before a night out in Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa party district on May 20.
Mr Hunt had “never, never” used the drug in Australia, Ms Cuthbert said.
“He’s the biggest fitness freak you’ll ever meet and it’s completely unlike him.”
However, she added: “I wouldn’t say he was a swimmer.”
Ms Cuthbert described her partner of five years as “very loving”.
“He’s just like a big bear on the inside. On the outside, he comes across as a big tough man that can do anything, but inside he’s just soft, loving and a beautiful person,” she said.
Mr Hunt is an electrician and had been working on a mine site in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
He had saved for three years for his six-month round-the-world trip with Mr Sheppard, Ms Cuthbert said.
She said Mr Sheppard, who has not yet spoken publicly, was “feeling the same as we all are”, and was assisting with the search.
“He is not in the right head space at this time to be speaking to anyone,” she said.
“He has been by himself for 10 days in a foreign country and he just needs to focus on finding his friend at the moment.”
Mr Wholohan reiterated that the group was concentrating on finding Mr Hunt.
“We’re all feeling the same,” he said. “(We’re) optimistic, and we’ll remain that way too.”