This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Last week, a man in Australia reported that his twin brother had gone missing while swimming at an isolated beach on the New South Wales south coast. The 42-year-old said he was supposed to meet his sibling at Gillards Beach, in the Mimosa Rocks National Park, but upon arrival found only a pile of clothes lying on the sand. Emergency services were called and a desperate three-day air and sea search began—but the brother was never found. As it turned out, he never existed.
"Inquiries determined the report was false, and there was no missing swimmer," NSW Police said in a statement, according to Fairfax. Now authorities reportedly believe the man made the whole thing up as part of an elaborate plan to escape his multi-million dollar debts.
It’s thought that the man—whose identity has not been released for privacy reasons—was himself planning to disappear, start a new life as his own "brother", and leave his troubled past behind. He is not in custody but is suspected to be in Victoria. Officers from the South Coast Police District issued a future court attendance notice to the man for making a false representation resulting in a police investigation. It has since emerged that he is also wanted by Victoria Police on fraud charges.
"He's now wanted in two states," said NSW Police South Coast District Chief Inspector Peter Volf, adding that the three-day search—which involved local surf lifesaving clubs, Merimbula and Bermagui Marine Rescue, Bega Valley SES volunteers, NSW Ambulance, PolAir, and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter—was “all for nought”. All things said and done, the search effort might have cost emergency services more than $1 million. The use of the Westpac chopper alone racked up a bill of about $33,000.
"There were lots of resources tied up on this search,” said Westpac's rescue helicopter chief executive Stephen Leahy. “That was both financially costly and also a lot of volunteers from surf lifesaving, the SES, the marine rescue and other agencies had to take time off work to attend that search."
Speaking to the ABC, surf lifesaving volunteer Jennifer O'Leary reflected that she did find it strange when, less than 24 hours after he reported his twin missing, the man started referring to "his brother's body".
"Usually we are dealing with people's false hope," she said. After accompanying search crews for two days, the man reportedly evaded police and vanished from the scene.