Gordon Copeland's family remains hopeful for answers as a third multi-agency search near Moree commences, almost three months after the Gomeroi man's disappearance in the Gwydir River.
"The main aim here is to find Gordon and to find out what happened that morning," his Aunt, Lesley Fernando, told the Times.
New England Police District Commander, Superintendent Steve Laksa, was joined by SES Western Zone's Superintendent Mitch Parker to detail this latest operation involving 70 police from specialist commands and 20 SES personnel.
The search comes after the family raised concerns with the Crown Solicitors that certain areas "would still require another search," Supt. Laksa explained.
"We've been in consultation with the Coroner and the Crown Solicitors," he said.
"We spoke about the initial searches and then agreed to conduct another."
The coordination had "taken a degree of effort" with resources from across the whole state, and they probably would've gained more from QLD "if we had the borders open," he explained.
The search parameters have been established about 12km away from where Mr Copeland was last seen, continuing up until a place known as 'the raft'.
The location was mapped out using data from the initial operations coordinated by Inspector Helen McWilliam, with locations of interest identified by family who've significantly invested in continuing their own search.
"Police will conduct that search there in an attempt to hopefully locate Gordon Copeland or locate some sign of him which may give more information as to where he may be or where he may have been," Supt. Laksa explained.
"Today has really given the family an opportunity to identify locations on the river that they feel need to be searched."
Local police are being aided by officers from across the Western Region including the Western Region Operations Support Group (OSG).
They are also joined by specialist officers from the Marine Area Command, Police Rescue, the Dog and Mounted Unit, and the NSW SES.
Supt. Laksa was unable to comment on many of the circumstances around the disappearance on July 10 due to the ongoing Critical Incident Investigation undertaken by Oxley Police District investigators.
He wished to assure the community, however, police were doing everything in their power to bring Mr Copeland home, while also noting the difficultly police officers went through that night.
"I am quite open in the [Coroner's brief] being accessible to the community members," he said.
"I can say that it was 2.30 in the morning, it was over eight police that had responded to assist.
"Police were not only wet, cold, covered in mud, and suffering from the extreme conditions they were exposed to on the night and trying to do their best to locate someone who may have been in the water, they endured significant conditions.
"I think the community should have faith in their police who attended, have faith in the police in Moree who are still responding to jobs after jobs after jobs in the local community to do their best.
"Our thoughts and prayers go to the family... but I can say, hand on heart, that the NSW Police have invested significant resources in relation to this," Supt. Laksa said.
He commended police and emergency services for their search efforts to date, but also commended the family.
"[They all] have been out there searching for the past three months... an area which is rugged, treacherous, infested with snakes and other vermin."
Family's hope kindled
Through the maze of fields and irrigation channels on a property less than 10 kilometres out from Moree, more than 90 emergency service personnel have made base camp.
They have been searching the Gwydir River where they believe Gomeroi man Gordon Copeland could be.
A group of family members, including Mr Copeland's mother Narelle Copeland and Aunt Lesley Fernando, gathered at the camp on the first day of the search, watching the river for the return of the rafts.
The private property is now familiar to them, having not stopped their hunt to find their son, brother, father.
"Our men have been out here, brothers, first cousins, family and friends, have all been out here on the river, on this land," Ms Fernando said yesterday.
"We've even had Aircair take our boys up twice now with no charge - it's quite an expensive trip - and taking them up to do air searches as well."
With cooperation from the local farmers allowing them access, she said the only times they weren't on site were rain days, where muddy, boggy tracks became impassable.
"We've been very proactive... we won't stop searching until we bring Gordon home," she said. Finding Mr Copeland will "have big impact for the Aboriginal community as a whole."
"We would truly like to know the events that lead up to his disappearance that night," Ms Fernando said.
"The whole emotional turmoil it has caused our community... we've had responses and message from all over, sending their deepest condolences and sympathies."
Realistic in the outcome, the family want to give him the send-off he deserves, a place they can go to sit and remember him.
"Unfortunately with the time it as been, it's clear that Gordon is not here with us anymore.
"But we are hoping to bring him home," she said.
They thanked Water NSW for being very supportive, as well as MP Adam Marshall for helping them get COVID exemptions to enable the searching to continue.
On July 10, police believe Mr Copeland was last seen entering the Gwydir River in a Gant grey jumper, Louis Vuitton hat and black tracksuit pants.
Police have alleged Mr Copeland was fleeing from them after they saw a black Toyota Corolla hatchback speeding on the Newell Highway near Moree, which they later found bogged near Yarraman Bridge on the Carnarvon Highway.
An initial search was conducted, involving crews from Fire and Rescue NSW, the NSW Rural Fire Service and State Emergency Services, however Mr Copeland wasn't found.
A further unsuccessful three-day search was carried out from August 10, on involving officers from Police Rescue, Police Diving Unit, officers on trail bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), assisted by volunteers from SES, RFS, VRA and the local community.
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