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B.C. search finds no trace of tree planter

An extensive search by air and on foot along the fringes of a heavily forested area of northern British Columbia has so far failed to find any trace of missing 25-year-old Nicole Hoar.

Ms. Hoar, of Red Deer, Alta., was last seen on June 21, hitchhiking west of Prince George on Highway 16, which winds through remote areas between isolated communities.

Ms. Hoar had a job with a tree-planting company for the summer to raise money for her university education. She was expected at the job site on June 27. Her employer reported her missing on July 2.

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After four days of searching, weary friends and professional search crews were trying yesterday to remain optimistic.

But last night a police spokesman said search crews may have to consider scaling back their hunt.

"We do have to address the fact that we do have a large number of resources employed in a search that in the last four days has resulted in absolutely nothing . . . to point us in the direction of where Nicole is," said RCMP Constable Mike Herchuk.

Thousands of tree planters pass through Prince George during the summer. The seasonal work draws hardy men and women who can cope with the hordes of mosquitoes and muggy heat waves. The most-industrious workers, who plant more than 1,000 trees a day, can earn a daily fee of at least $250.

Ms. Hoar's father, Jack, told reporters in Prince George that his daughter was committed to work.

"She has never missed work, so for her to not show up for the start date is just something that is totally out of character," he said.

"We have a very real concern that an accident of some kind has befallen her."

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Her mother, Barbara, made a plea for "just absolutely anything" to provide a lead for the search. "We just need to find a place to get started. We want our precious daughter home," she said in Prince George.

Ms. Hoar was reported to have been hitchhiking to Smithers, about 370 kilometres west of Prince George.

"It kind of seemed like something that she felt really comfortable doing, so I never really questioned her about it," a friend told CTV news.

The search includes 13 teams -- about 50 people -- walking shoulder to shoulder along the highway outside Prince George. Emergency crews from more than six communities had gone to the site to check out side roads and trails, while a helicopter with spotters flew overhead. A police dog was also on the scene.

By last night, the crews had covered about 20 per cent of the area to be searched.

Police are also receiving a flood of calls with information to be checked out. Mostly, callers report seeing the dark-haired woman with short hair and a warm smile, police said.

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Extra staff may be assigned to the case to investigate the tips from the public, they added.

"Basically, we're looking for any signs where somebody might have been camped. We're looking for anything that might have been in her pack. We're looking for anything that's a little bit unusual," said Ray Ouellette of Prince George's Search and Rescue team.

Police have played down suggestions that the disappearance may be linked to the so-called Highway 16 murders of the early 1990s. At least five women disappeared between 1990 and 1996 while hitchhiking or walking alone at night along the highway or in communities along the route.

Three were later found dead and two are still missing and suspected to be the victims of foul play.

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