Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann locked down a remote Algarve reservoir with a no-fly zone overhead today as they prepared to search for signs of the missing British girl.
The first major search for Madeleine in nine years comes after German police discovered photos of prime suspect Christian Brueckner at his self-described ‘little paradise’ in the Portuguese region.
Roads leading into the Arade Dam, a 40-minute drive from Praia da Luz where the youngster vanished 16 years ago, were sealed off yesterday as part of a ‘preparation’ day ahead of the search operation, which will see detectives comb scrubland near the water. Much of the work will be done by hand, officials said.
And overnight a no-fly zone covering the whole of the man-made dam was put in place, leaving the airspace above the water and land near the water’s edge – where today’s search will focus on – open to police drones only.
The ring of steel meant journalists and curious onlookers were kept more than a mile back from two white tents put up yesterday by a secluded hilltop area on a peninsula jutting into the reservoir Portuguese police are planning to comb until nightfall following a scheduled 9am local time start.
Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (left) locked down a remote Algarve reservoir with a no-fly zone overhead today as they prepared to search for the body of the missing British girl. The first major search for Madeleine in nine years comes after German police discovered photos of prime suspect Christian Brueckner (right) at his self-described ‘little paradise’ in the Portugese region.
The search is expected to last for at least two days and beyond that if anything of relevance is found at the reservoir, which lies about 45 minutes from Praia da Luz – where Madeleine vanished without a trace in 2007 aged three
Portuguese officers were pictured surveying the reservoir in Silves yesterday ahead of the start of the official search operation for Madeleine beginning today
Sources close to the investigation said they had evidence the clearing in the trees was the spot Brueckner used to spend time at after parking up his camper van nearby.
A local who asked not to be named, but knows the area well, said: ‘It’s pretty well-hidden by the trees and you don’t realise it’s there until you’re almost upon it.
‘People wild camp there overnight from time to time which is why you’ll find the remains of fires inside small walls of stone.
‘It’s got old sun loungers in it and makeshift benches that visitors use to rest on. It’s very out-of-the-way and very peaceful but at the same time it’s got a slightly eerie feel about it.’
A well-placed police source said: ‘Portuguese police are going to carry out a thorough and very careful search of the area today.
‘Policia Judiciaria officers are going to be divided into four teams who will focus on a land search. It will be very meticulous and exhaustive.
‘Forget the idea of big trucks and large machinery. A lot of the work that’s going to be done here today will be done by hand with backup technology.’
The insider said there was no plan to bring in sniffer dogs today and did not comment on local reports boats with sonar equipment would comb certain stretches of the water.
High-tech equipment used to detect human remains buried under the earth, as well as underwater if required, is expected to be used.
No heavy machinery was taken to the area yesterday and council officials were spotted carrying a ‘lorryload’ of wheelbarrows to the zone by the hidden leisure area clearing, suggesting police will rake and dig it by hand using the likes of pickaxes rather than excavate earth with diggers in an attempt to preserve any evidence.
Local Portuguese reports, partly confirmed by police sources, claimed the searches were requested and authorised after German police obtained videos and photos of Brueckner by the planned dig site.
Officers of Portugal’s investigative Judicial Police were seen at the site of a remote reservoir in Silves on Monday (pictured). They confirmed that they have launched a fresh search alongside German and British authorities. The first major search for Madeleine in nine years comes after German police discovered photos of prime suspect Christian Brueckner at his self-described ‘little paradise’ in the Portuguese region
A vehicle of Portugal’s Emergency Services carries wheelbarrows at the site of the reservoir
They are thought to have been found buried in the paedophile’s ‘secret lair’ in a dilapidated factory site in the German village of Neuwegersleben 65 miles south-east of Hanover.
Police raided the site in February 2016 in search of the body of missing five-year-old Inga Gehricke, who vanished while on a family outing in Saxony-Anhalt in May 2015 and has been dubbed the ‘German Maddie.’
Reports at the time said German detectives had discovered more than 8,000 images and videos on USB sticks and hard drives filled with child abuse images.
They were said to have been buried under the body of Brueckner’s dead dog.
Portugal’s Policia Judiciaria force, whose officers are doing most of the dig work today, has confirmed the searches were requested by their German counterparts the BKA.
The request was made via an international letter of request sent to Portugal’s Attorney General’s office and passed on to prosecutors in Portimao.
Portuguese officials have not yet said when it was received but it is believed to have been about two months ago.
Although this week’s operation has been initiated by German police, Portuguese detectives are showing with the manpower and logistical support they are providing that they are fully on board.
Carlos Farinha, the PJ’s deputy director, travelled from Lisbon yesterday to the reservoir to view the preparation work ahead of the start of the searches and meet German counterparts.
He is believed to have attended a briefing meeting with German police, who arrived at the scene around 6.30pm local time in four vehicles including three VW people carriers and left two hours later.
Today Algarve PJ chief Fernando Jordao who is normally based in Faro and Helena Monteiro, tasked with an ongoing Portuguese police ‘cold case’ review from the northern city of Porto, are due to spend time at the search area in another show of the importance attached to this week’s operation by the Portuguese force’s upper hierarchy.
Operational coordination will be in the hands of a chief inspector who has not yet been named.
Scotland Yard representatives will be in the area for what has been described as a ‘watching brief.’
Respected Portuguese broadcaster SIC has said the searches, due to last for at least two days and longer if anything of relevance is found, will be 80 per cent land-based and 20 per cent water-based.
In a lunchtime broadcast yesterday it said: ‘Investigators know suspect Cristian Brueckner used to come to this dam regularly.
‘He would call it his little paradise and would often spend the night here. He was seen here often.
‘The German authorities considered this reservoir to be an area of interest and ended up sending an International letter of request or letter rogatory.’
Police are aiming to build up a picture of sole suspect Christian Brueckner’s life on the Algarve and the places he frequented as they search the Barragem reservoir in Silves, Portugal
Pictured: The Barragem reservoir in Silves, southern Portugal, where police will start to look for Madeleine today
Kate and Gerry McCann pose for the media with a missing poster depicting an age progression computer generated image of their still missing daughter Madeleine during a news conference in London, May 2, 2012
No police divers have yet been spotted and there are conflicting reports about whether underwater searches will take place or if they will occur in shallows near the edge of the reservoir where water levels are currently much lower than normal because of the ongoing drought.
In a statement issued yesterday evening, the first so far by authorities in Portugal, Germany or UK after news of the new operation broke, the PJ said: ‘In view of the news made public, the Judiciary Police confirms that, regarding the investigation into the disappearance of an English child, which occurred in the Algarve in 2007, steps are still being taken to fully clarify the situation.
‘Within the scope of international cooperation, in the next few days in the Algarve region, new searches will be carried out, coordinated by the Judiciary Police, at the request of the German Authorities (BKA) and with the presence of the British Authorities.
‘Information will be provided in due course on the outcome of the proceedings.’
The force made its statement shortly before German police arrived at the reservoir for a briefing meeting.
They were travelling in three Volkswagen vans, two black and one dark-blue, and a Ford Ranger with a Portuguese police escort in front.
The meeting took place in one of two blue tents put up yesterday lunchtime just under a mile from the land set to be examined today, one for the police and one for civil protection workers.
It was the first time all day any German officials had been seen at the reservoir, which was searched by divers hired by a Portuguese lawyer in February and March 2008. Back then, the diving team leader describing the ‘long process’ his team faced navigating the ‘black’ waters.
Marcos Aragao Correia organised the privately-funded operation after claiming he had been tipped off by underworld contacts that Madeleine had been murdered and her body thrown into the reservoir within 48 hours of her disappearance.
Two bags containing small bones were found during the second search after divers had earlier recovered several lengths of cord, some plastic tape and a single white cotton sock.
Portuguese police were alerted following the discovery but subsequently ruled out the possibility the bones were human because of their size.
Madeleine’s parents Gerry and Kate McCann had previously dismissed Mr Correia as a self-publicist and said there was no evidence suggesting any link between their daughter and the reservoir.
The dam, near the town of Silves where a lorry driver says he saw a woman handing a child like Madeleine McCann over to a man two days after she went missing from her Praia da Luz holiday apartment on May 3 2007, is not thought to have been searched since March 2008 as part of the ongoing investigation into her disappearance.
The search is the first major operation of its kind since June 2014 when British police were given permission to do digs in Praia da Luz that involved sniffer dogs trained in detecting bodies and ground-penetrating radar.
The Scotland Yard digs nearly nine years ago in Praia da Luz were linked to the leading UK police theory at the time Madeleine died during a break-in and burglars dumped her body nearby.
The searches failed to find any trace of the missing youngster.
In a smaller operation in July 2020 Portuguese police and firefighters searched three wells for Madeleine’s body but failed to find any trace of her.
The abandoned wells are a 15 minute drive from a cottage Brueckner rented on the outskirts of Praia de Luz, on a narrow road leading down to a beach where the paedophile used to park his VW camper van.
German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters has consistently said he is convinced Madeleine is dead and caged paedophile Brueckner, 45, has been named as the sole suspect.
The deviant, currently serving time for the September 2005 rape of an American OPA in the resort where Madeleine vanished, has yet to face any formal accusation over the youngster’s disappearance.
Last April he was made an official suspect or arguido in Portugal over Madeleine’s disappearance, although his defence lawyer Friedrich Fulscher labelled it a ‘procedural trick’ linked to statute of limitations legislation at the time.
Last autumn Bruecker was charged in Germany with several sex crimes on the Algarve against women and children including the rape of an Irish holiday rep in 2004 and the sexual abuse of a 10-year-old girl on a beach near Praia da Luz in 2007.
Brueckner’s lawyer revealed in April those charges had been dropped against him in a bombshell development after successfully arguing prosecutors had no jurisdiction over him in Braunschweig where the Madeleine case was being brought.
The case could end up with prosecutors in Saxony-Anhalt instead but an appeal lodged by the Braunschweig public prosecutor’s office has yet to be decided.
Two officers from Portugal’s Judicial Police were pictured walking around the grounds of the reservoir yesterday
Police tents were spotted being erected as cops prepared for a new search operation, 16 years on from the toddler going missing
Portuguese police were seen at the makeshift base camp in the Arade dam area, Faro district, one day before the official start of the new search for Madeleine
Braunschweig prosecutor Mr Wolters has insisted they are still in control of the Madeleine McCann investigation and Brueckner, who denies any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance, remains in custody.
Kate and Gerry are expected to be kept informed of any developments as a result of the new search through Scotland Yard liaison officers.
The Arade Dam, the Barragem do Arade in Portuguese, is fed by the watercourse of the Arade River whose source lies to the southwest of the Serrra do Caldeirao mountain range and runs through the municipalities of Silves, Lagoa and Portimao before reaching the ocean.
Construction was concluded in 1955 and it began operating the following year.