Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Lost Frontier

Fred Frontier came to Taiwan with a job and a well-researched plan for his time on the island. Then within days of his arrival, he vanished from sight

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

A decade ago, ICRT news reporter Alan Beach disappeared on Yangmingshan. According to his former colleagues, he was found face down in water nearly a week later.

New Zealander Reuben Tchernegovski came to Taiwan in late 1998 for a solo trek of the Alishan National Scenic Area. He was last seen on Nov. 24 that year. Similar to Frontier's case, Tchernegovski's father-in-law, Phil Tchernegovski, came to Taiwan to look for him. He stayed through the beginning of 1999 hiking the Alishan area and encouraging members of the search operation. Reuben was never found.

It's been said that Taiwan's complicated system of applying for hiking permits encourages people to flout the law and venture off alone, thus reducing their chance of survival should they become imperiled. Permits are issued only to groups of three or more and, if the group is to hike above 3,000m, a certified guide must accompany them. But since Jan. 1 of this year, applying for permits to Yushan, Taroko and Hsueh-pa national parks requires neither a guide nor a three-person minimum.

The national parks have a relatively low occurrence of disappearances. While neither the NPA nor the park police departments maintain collective statistics on cases, an enquiry with Taroko's tourism department found that there have been nine missing cases within the park since 1996 and only one of those cases remains unsolved -- Fred Frontier's.

Park police say that the first three days after someone is reported missing are the most crucial, but as with Frontier's case, bureaucracy and uncertainty can slow the start of an official search. In Taroko Gorge, once a search has begun, police will employ a team of about 30 people to patrol and a helicopter to look from above. The total cost can exceed half a million NT dollars. The helicopter alone costs NT$300,000 for each use.

All of Taiwan's parks take measures to prevent disappearances. For its part, Taroko categorizes its trails into five levels, the lower the level, the easier the trail. Levels one through three are patrolled every day, according to the park's tourism department. Levels four and five, which reach altitudes of 3,000m, are patrolled one to three times a month.

And what of the unfortunate soul that is never found? According to Article 8 of the Civil Law, after a person has been missing for seven consecutive years, his or her family can apply to have their loved one legally presumed dead.

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