Rio de Janeiro: A Brazilian fisherman is adamant he saw missing Australian backpacker Rye Hunt alive on an island in Rio de Janeiro’s harbour the day after his disappearance.
The 25-year-old Tasmanian has been missing since May 21, after a fight with travel companion Mitchell Sheppard at the city’s international airport.
On May 30, the fisherman contacted police after recognising Mr Hunt’s photo in local media, to report seeing him eight days earlier.
The man told Rio’s O Globo newspaper that he and his girlfriend were fishing from a boat near Ilha Cotunduba, an uninhabited island about three kilometres from Copacabana Beach, when they spotted the man on the island.
Rye Hunt with his girlfriend, Bonnie Cuthbert. Photo: Facebook
“I have no doubt it was the missing tourist,” the fisherman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
“The guy was looking fixedly at my boat. He had various cuts to his body.
“Me and my girlfriend were scared, it was a strong man and he didn’t stop staring at us. He came down close to the water and did gestures asking for [drinking] water … I took a 1.5 litre bottle of mineral water and threw it. He drank it all in just one go.”
The fisherman said he spoke briefly with the man in English, and the man told him he was Australian and had swum to the island.
“I thought it was strange, Cotunduba is difficult to access, the waves come in strongly onto the rocks of the island.”
Rye Hunt is missing in Brazil. Photo: Facebook
The fisherman said the man didn’t ask him for help to leave the island.
“When we stopped speaking, he returned to sitting, looking lost.”
Searches of the island on May 30 and 31 found no sign of Mr Hunt.
Police have since expanded their search to a larger area of water in the harbour, after a fishing boat on Wednesday reported sighting a body near another island, Ilha Rasa, some eight kilometres offshore.
Searchers had so far been unable to locate the body.
Police believe Mr Hunt and Mr Sheppard took the party drug MDMA during a night out in Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa party district on May 20.
A bar owner said the pair appeared “terrified” and were convinced other clubgoers were “trying to kill them”.
They went to the airport the following day to book tickets to Bolivia, but Mr Hunt left after an argument.
He took a taxi to Copacabana and rented an apartment for three days. He left shortly after 6pm and had not been heard from since.