Chile police hunt for missing UK university astronomer

Prof Marsh was working near the Atacama Desert when he vanished  (Family handout)
Prof Marsh was working near the Atacama Desert when he vanished (Family handout)

Police in Chile have launched a search for a missing British university astronomy professor who has been missing for six days.

Thomas Marsh, an astrophysicist and astronomer at the University of Warwick, was last seen near an astronomical observatory on the edge of the Atacama Desert, where he was working.

His worried family have appealed for anyone who might have any information to contact police.

Prof Marsh, 60, a keen walker said to be very familiar with the mountainous terrain, was last seen around 6am last Friday.

His clothes and other belongings including his passport are reported to have remained untouched in a nearby rented room.

Police are using specialist equipment including drones to carry out the search, and volunteers from a local flight club are taking to the sky to help.

Criminal investigators are understood to have also been drafted in. Officers from the PDI police, part of Chile’s Ministry of Interior, and the Carabineros national law enforcement police say they are considering all options.

Local PDI police chief Carlos Albornoz said: “Search work is being done on the ground and interviews and statements are being taken.

“Other organisations are also involved in the operation to try to establish as quickly as possible where this person is.

“Nothing is being ruled out, and all lines of inquiry remain open.”

Prof Marsh’s daughter, Tabitha, published a missing persons poster on Facebook, writing: “This is my dad, Tom Marsh. He’s been missing in Chile since 16th of September - almost a week now. Please share this, we’re desperate to find him…

“He was out on an observing run at the La Silla Observatory in Chile when he went missing. The closest town is La Serena.

“If anyone has ANY information or thinks they can help in ANY way, please contact the police. If you’re in the UK, dial 101 and quote the reference: INC 153 18/9/22 Warwickshire Police. If you’re outside the UK, please call +44 1926 415000.

“Thank you. My family, and my dad’s friends and colleagues, would be beyond grateful for any help or information.

“Even if you don’t think you can do anything, please share this -- someone you know might be able to help us.”

A spokesperson for the University of Warwick said: “Professor Tom Marsh, the founding professor of the astronomy and astrophysics group at University of Warwick, was reported as missing from La Silla Observatory in Chile, where he has recently been working as a visiting astronomer at the ESO (European Southern Observatory).

“The local emergency services are undertaking a thorough and extensive search for Tom.

“We are in regular contact with Tom’s family and have offered them our full support, along with his colleagues, students and friends at the university.

“Our thoughts remain with them at this worrying time.”

La Silla Observatory, one of the largest in the southern hemisphere, is about 95 miles from Serena, near the Atacama Desert, one of the driest and remotest places in the world.