The family of missing hiker Esther Dingley said they are devastated “beyond words” after remains found in the Pyrenees have been confirmed as hers.
Ms Dingley, 37, had been walking solo in the mountains near the Spanish and French border and was last seen on Nov 22 last year.
LBT Global, the charity representing her family, said DNA testing confirmed that human remains found last week were a match for the missing woman.
"We are distraught to report that we have received DNA confirmation that one of the bones found last week belongs to Esther,” her mother, Ria Dingley, and boyfriend, Dan Colegate, said in a statement released through the charity.
"We have all known for many months that the chance we would get to hug our beloved Esther again, to feel her warm hand in ours, to see her beautiful smile and to watch the room light up again whenever she arrived was tiny, but with this confirmation that small hope has now faded. It is devastating beyond words.”
The charity stressed that the investigation was still in its infancy, with just one bone currently located.
They added there is no sign of equipment or clothing in the immediate area, which has been closely searched again over several days, and the details of what happened and where still remain unknown.
Search and rescue teams intend to continue their search on foot and with drones, particularly trying to find some sign of Ms Dingley's equipment.
French police have also confirmed to The Telegraph it appears Esther’s remains were “moved by an animal” as they were not in the same spot they were located on previous searches.
Captain Jean-Marc Bordinaro, head of the police unit in St Gaudens in southern France, said: “A skull and two unidentified animal bones were discovered by Spanish walkers last Thursday a hundred-odd metres over the Spanish border on French soil. They were just off the main walker’s path at port de la Glère.”
“It appears the skull and other bones were moved by an animal as they were not in that spot in previous days (on a 2,200 meter-high mountain pass where Ms Dingley had been walking). The search continues on both sides of the border for the rest of Ms Dingley’s remains and her belongings. The French police will next week search with a drone.”
Vultures, eagles, the horned Pyrenean Ibex and chamois, a type of mountain goat-antelope, all frequent the mountain range. There has been speculation in regional media that lynx have returned as well, after dying out in the 1960s. Bears have also been reintroduced into the Pyrenees but are not thought to frequent the same area.
“We are treating this as a tragic accident. The skull was found in the sector where Ms Dingley had been walking. While it was found just off the path, the area is dangerous as there are vertical drops all around. I would remind people that the mountain is a dangerous place even for the experienced,” Capt Bordinaro said.
The local French prosecutor is expected to issue a statement early next week.
Matthew Searle MBE, chief executive, LBT Global, said: "This is the tragic end we have all feared. This is devastating news for Esther’s loved ones – never before have I seen such incredible determination as that showed by Daniel in his relentless physical search of the mountains."
Esther and her partner Mr Colegate had left England in 2014 to travel around Europe. They had intended to travel for 12 months but had stayed for six years.
Mr Colgate first raised the alarm on Nov 25, three days after he last heard from her via Whatsapp. She had sent her partner a selfie on top of Pic de Sauvegarde on the France-Spain border.
Searches for the 37-year-old were halted in December due to bad weather and had only resumed in recent weeks.