Mums Story - 11 Weeks

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My son Blake Hartley went missing two days after his 25th birthday, during his first night in Chamonix, France in the early hours of the 8th August, eleven weeks ago.


He disappeared without a trace.


 He was leading an army expedition of eight other Army Officer Cadets from Sandhurst Military Academy.  Details of the early stages of the search can be found in “Sally's Account - Blake’s Story – Eleven Days,” but so much has happened since then and I wanted to share some of it with you.


Where has all that time gone? Well, a lot of it has passed in waiting. Waiting for …… information, people to do things, for people to get back to me, waiting to contact people, waiting, just waiting, and waiting,…. for Blake!


 I cannot believe eleven weeks have passed since Blake disappeared. We have been used to not seeing him for a few months at a time, he never was very good at communicating, but it was never this bad or in this style. As time passes it feels so awful to think he may never return, that we may never see him bound through the door again with that cheeky, happy grin on his face, welcoming the dogs and with his arms out-stretched saying “Mum!”


But what happened on the night on the 8th August? Will we ever know? The thought that we might never know is frightening, and it still just as big a mystery now, as it was then. How can someone simply vanish? Every time we get another lead a hundred more questions are generated, but still no answers. Direction in this case has been hard to find, all we know is what happened up until the last person who was with saw him disappear, and after that there has been nothing except educated guesses and they have lead nowhere. Emotional frustrations are felt by everyone but patience and hope have become important aspects of our day to day lives.  The more impatient we feel, the harder it is on ourselves. Right now it feels like we want something we can’t seem to have. Answers.

What a never-ending roller coaster of emotions I have been thrown on. Initially, when I received the telephone call to say Blake was missing, I thought the worst, that he had fallen in that terrible river, but after the thorough search of Chamonix when nothing was found when all normal avenues of searching had been exhausted and we had no clues as to where to focus on next, I started to look to for more unusual solutions.  A new type of hope blossomed from two local psychics, both of them assuring me he is still alive. That kept me going for a while, giving me the strength and motivation needed to extend and widen the search through as many channels I could think of. I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in all my life, but the very notion that he might just be alive, somewhere, somehow, is enough to make me want to move heaven and earth in order to find him. Nothing is so great a motivation, than the love of a mother for her son.



 Blake, summer 2003 in Chamonix


 Interestingly both psychics came up with the same information saying there was some sort of religious connection, and that he may seek refuge in a monastery, so I duly emailed all the monasteries I could find on the internet, but sadly no sightings as yet. This theory was also reinforced by two of his friends having the same dream about him joining a monastery! Someone recently (through Blake’s website), suggested that he may have found another type of religion, the French Foreign Legion! If that is correct, it would be very hard to trace him as a person can join under any name he chooses and simply flee for as long as he chooses, but again, I don’t think Blake would do that. I seriously don’t think he would choose to put his family through the agony it is going through now.


I have had so many things to do, but never enough hours in each day to get everything done, and doing everything while being engulfed in an all encompassing pain that is both mental and physical, which can destroy you if you let it, but it can also be the catalyst required to drive you on. Attempting  to do a full-time job (I work for the NSPCC Schools department), giving interviews to the press and the media, meetings with the police and the army liaison officers, running a home, spending countless hours on my laptop emailing everyone I know, then responding to every email I received in response, researching this and that (so many hours that I have now acquired a permanent pain in the back of my neck), and setting up the website about Blake (which has proved to be a fantastic way to further the search), with the help of Simon Smith from Extrinsica, his brilliant idea, expertise, and resources. 


The use of the internet has been so effective in spreading the word around the world; I emailed everyone on my email contact address list asking them to email all their contacts and so on and so on, and I also sent hundreds of postcards by “snail-mail” to everybody else I knew, however remote the connection,  the result being that numerous people have emailed me with all kinds of offers of help and support like an offer of an apartment (free of charge), in Chamonix, help with translating, adding “Blake’s Story” to mountaineering and climbing websites, people offering to take Blake’s poster to Europe, offers of TV documentaries being made about his disappearance, ideas from various people, and many, many good wishes and prayers, which have meant so much to me and helped me to carry on.


Responding to all these emails alone is a full-time job in itself, but one I value as I really do appreciate and feel incredibly humbled by everything all those wonderful people (a lot of them I have never even met), have done to help and I am truly moved by their kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity. I also had printed thousands of ‘missing person’ postcards with the very generous help of Grocontinental, Schmitz Cargobull and MAN Trucks West Midlands, which are now being distributed across Europe by their truck drivers.  It is totally amazing to think that there must now be so many thousands of people looking for Blake all over Europe. Although it is so easy to become disillusioned these days with all the horrible things that go on throughout the world,  an experience like this just makes me realise that there must be many, good, kind  people in this world.




 Chamonix Valley


One thing that has come shining through this whole awful experience is the fantastic quality of the many friendships that Blake possessed. I have received hundreds of emails and letters from his friends, stories about him that they have shared with me, a lot of good memories most of them amusing, (I have learnt so much more about my son over the last few weeks!), and some famous ‘Blake’isms,’ photographs they have so kindly sent, and importantly the general support and comfort they have given has been invaluable and also magnificent.


A difficult challenge of this awful situation has been the very basic fact of location and therefore obviously language. Trying to keep up to date with the progress of the search in France, coordinating and fielding all the different information between the different bodies concerned, i.e. Sandhurst, the Lyons Embassy, the German S.I.B. (the Army Special Investigation Branch) and the police here and in France, has been extremely difficult, and the fact that I don’t speak French has not helped matters, but again I have been treated with endless patience and empathy by all the authorities involved. One major problem is that we don’t actually have one person in overall charge of the investigation, someone who has access to all the different inquiries and the various organisations who could collate all the information and get an overall picture. Even though I appreciate that some of the leads I acquired have not come from the ‘usual’ sources, but everything has been taken seriously by even the more sceptical of people, partly I think due to the fact that in all honesty we have had absolutely nothing else to go on. But so far, unfortunately, none of these leads have come to anything, but at this stage of the proceedings I want to examine anything in order to try and find my son.


Last week I had an email from an old College friend of mine who lives in Lincoln and has had an ongoing problem with her back, one that has required weekly massages. The lady masseur is also a psychic and claimed she knew exactly where Blake was. Having spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with her, she informed me that he was indeed dead, frozen, at the junction of the Tacconaz and Bossans Glaciers above Chamonix and that he and some of the expedition lads had climbed up there that night as the result of possibly a bit of a dare or something similar, she wasn’t sure what. Blake had then got separated from the others and sat down under the glacier and fallen asleep, hypothermia had set in and a “snow shift” had occurred and smothered him. 


As I said earlier, having nothing else to go on, it had to be considered, but I was pretty sure that Blake, no matter what state he may have been in, he would not have put his life and the lives of others in danger, climbing for several hours without the proper equipment in the dark, especially when Sunday, the following day was a designated “chill-out” day, and according to his diary, Monday was the start of the expedition day, so why bother?  I am also pretty certain that by the time he would have climbed for about an hour or so it probably would have sufficiently sobered him up and he would have returned to camp. In addition, having had a considerable amount of training and experience in the mountains he would know the last thing you do is to sit down and fall asleep in an ice-field.  She gave me a very detailed description of exactly where to find him, and she was entirely right, except it was the wrong person.

Last week a body was discovered there, but not Blake’s; it was someone who disappeared 10 – 12 years ago.



The Bossans and Tacconz Glaciers

Climbing the glacier

So having been thrown into the depths of grief, I had to pull myself out of them and carry on trying to find him.


It was difficult to recover from the glacier situation because as time passed it was becoming easier to believe he could still be alive, but grim reality was finally beginning to set in due mainly to the information we received last Saturday. It came from a renowned “Dowser” or Diviner. She made contact through the “emailing network” and told us that she had located Blake’s body in the Durance River, about 4 hours south of Chamonix (not a river related to the river L’Arve at all, which is the river that runs through Chamonix, very close to where Blake disappeared). Every day when I have returned home this week I have been greeted with a fax showing the exact location of his body moving through the Lac de Serre-Ponçon, near Embrun, and finally yesterday, positioned on the beach of the lake. Every one of those faxes I forwarded to  our local International Liaison Police Officer, except for the last two which I sent directly to the police in Marseille (the nearest Headquarters for this area), and added a plea to them, asking them to please at least let us know one way or another. I have now heard that the police have put divers into the lake and had ‘sniffer’ dogs on the beach and have found nothing!


The other thing we are waiting for is for the Police in Chamonix to put their divers into the areas of the River L’Arve again, area they could not search before because of the ferociousness of the water, something they can only do when the weather worsens and the melt –water stops coming off the ice-caps. There is I believe is a very short period of time when the water levels drop and they can do this. I have been assured by the Commandant of the Chamonix Police that they have the investigation still open and will do this when they safely can,


If only I could just go to France myself and look, it really is the “not knowing,” which is the hardest part. I get upset and start to grieve, giving way to huge racking sobs, then thinking, come on, nothing has been found yet, let’s remain positive and carry on and try  to find him, because if I am not positive then who will be, and then everyone will lose hope.


My friends have been so supportive, helping me through all this, mopping up my tears, baking me a cake and even cooking complete meals for us, picking up my washing and bringing it back all washed and ironed, trying to distract me by organising activities such as golf to try and help take my mind off it all for a few hours, even though I know they understand only half of me is actually with them.  Getting through the day  is not an easy task  as it is with a heavy, painful heart I wake every morning and carry with me all day, until eventually, I fall asleep for a few hours, mainly due to sheer exhaustion.  My husband, David fortunately has endless patience and has been a tower of strength, learning to shop and cook (probably because of sheer hunger as meals have become somewhat sporadic lately), learning to iron, discovering we have a washing machine and doing some of the things around the house I think he always assumed happened by magic!




 Ice climbing in Canada 2004

Although it has quite obviously been a terrible ordeal for the whole family, the one I think it has been toughest on in the family is our daughter Steph, Blake’s 15 year old sister, she adored her big brother and looked to him to support her and guide her through life’s challenges. They had a very close and special relationship. Not only is she trying to cope with all this but also with her final year’s work leading up to her GCSE’s and of course the usual dose of rampaging hormones fluctuating through her system. Not an easy time for any of us, but for her, especially difficult. Though it cannot be easy either for my other daughter Maria, Blake’s 27 year old sister, who lives in Houston America with her fiancée. I feel for her dreadfully as she is too far away for me to be able to give her a hug, which is something we all need right now.


Tiredness has probably been my greatest enemy through this, knowing I feel totally exhausted but when I get to bed I lye there thinking and worrying so much I can’t get to sleep. Everything always seems worse when you are very tired, but how much worse could it get? In some ways I wish I didn’t have a job to do, but in others, it has probably been a good thing, helping me to get through the day, even if my mind isn’t always entirely on what I am supposed to be doing. 


In reality though, what I would really like to be doing is to be in France searching. The frustration of being here and not there is so excruciating that whenever we get a lead and I think there maybe places that could be searched, my husband has to restrain me from jumping on the next plane.


Maybe he is still alive, but then I have to remember that after this length of time, the news probably won’t be good, I have to be realistic. I lurch from one set of emotions to another, not really being able to give in to either.  Every time the phone rings, every time the doorbell goes, I feel sick, experiencing a tight band of fear around my pounding heart, hoping it is some news, any news, but not really wanting it at all. I know I have to prepare myself for the awful probable, or is it inevitable, end to this situation. If it is bad news, then it will just be the beginning of something else, something far worse, where there is no hope, just the dreadful finality and acceptance that Blake will never return home. But at least I will know, and one day maybe able to move on. Not to ever forget Blake, because that would be impossible, he held too big a presence in this world for that, and was too well loved. But for us to be released from this never ending nightmare will be to have, what the Americans call, some kind of closure. But we’ll deal with that when it happens…………..but until then there is always hope…… and waiting!



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