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Richard Piatt ReportingScores of volunteers searched rugged southern Utah for days for a missing hiker. It's no wonder they didn't find him.There's evidence tonight the missing St. George man is alive and well in Australia.
"We're pleased that he's alive. But we're saddened by the fact that he apparently--apparently took off. "
Now everyone involved in the case is searching for answers. There are mixed feelings over news Bryan Butas may have staged his own disappearance. Dozens of people volunteered their time and resources to look for Butas over the weekend. Now the search, which has been called off here, has stretched across the Pacific Ocean.
We should point out no one has actually spoken with Bryan Butas in Australia. But once they do, he will probably get an earful for misleading loved ones and strangers alike about his disappearance in the wilderness.
An abandoned SUV, that's all anyone ever had to back up the theory that Bryan Butas was a missing hiker. For six long days dozens of people searched the Oak Grove area of the Dixie National Forest with nothing more than the vehicle as evidence, not even footprints.
But the Sheriff's Department had questions: A wallet full of credit cards, but no driver's license. A call to a Saint George pharmacy to refill a prescription that was never picked up. Finally, this week, confirmation of a Visa credit card purchase for Bryan Butas: An airline ticket departing from Los Angeles.
Jake Adams Washington Co. Sheriff's Department: "I have also verified that the passport was used as a boarding pass on every leg of the flight, which was from LAX to New Zealand."
The plane landed in Cairns, Queensland, Australia Thursday August 4th, according to police. No one has heard from Butas, as far as police know. But the Washington county sheriff is asking Australian authorities to look for him, more than a little annoyed about what's happened.
Kirk Smith, Washington County Sheriff: “We almost feel betrayed at this point because we put all we had into this and he’s not here.”
Preliminary estimates set search and rescue costs at around 20-thousand dollars: Money that could be recovered with a civil complaint against Butas. Even Butas's family is taking the news of his alleged staged disappearance hard. They also feel duped, coming all the way from Cleveland, Ohio to search.
Joe Butas, Father: "He left three beautiful children behind and a wife. And I know they've had problems. But this is no way to solve a problem."
Another unanswered question: Did Bryan Butas have an accomplice, someone who helped him get from Southern Utah to Los Angeles? Washington county investigators plan to find out, even though this case is a far lower priority than it was just a day ago.