SARANAC LAKE - Village police pursued leads half a world away while state forest rangers searched for clues on the ground here Tuesday in the disappearance of an Australian man.
Thirty-one-year-old Paul John McKay was last seen Dec. 31 after he left the Best Western Mountain Lake Inn in Saranac Lake on foot and headed east toward Lake Placid.
"We now have a handful of people that remember someone who fits his description walking on (state Route 86) near the last location he was seen," village Police Chief Bruce Nason said Tuesday. "The witnesses described what we believe to be him on the railroad tracks near the federal prison (in Ray Brook)."
Paul McKay, a member of the Australian Army, was last seen in Ray Brook on Dec. 31. This is one of several photos posted on his brand new Facebook page four days before he disappeared.
This morning, police released a timeline of McKay's travel from Australia to Saranac Lake, along with a missing person flyer that says he was last seen wearing a winter jacket and snow pants, possibly dark colored, and a very large backpack.
Nason said state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers have hiked the railroad tracks and trails in the area. They also used a state police helicopter in the search over the weekend, Nason said.
"We're going from in Ray Brook, along the railroad tracks - all along that area," Nason said. "We're looking to see if there's any indication that somebody may have been walking and left the trail."
One witness said McKay looked prepared to go hiking in the backcountry. Asked if McKay may have had overnight camping gear with him, Nason said police don't know for sure, "but he may have the capability of spending the night outdoors."
McKay, of Canberra, Australia, is an active member of the Australian Army. Police have said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A spokesperson for the Australian Defence Force, in a statement emailed to the Enterprise, didn't refer to McKay by name but confirmed "that an Army member has been reported missing in Saranac Lake, New York State, United States while on leave.
Paul McKay's known travel timeline
8:30 p.m. - arrives at Newark International Airport from Australia
7 a.m. - leaves New York City by Greyhound bus
10 a.m. - arrives in Albany bus terminal
1:30 p.m. - leaves Albany bus terminal
6:05 p.m. - arrives in Saranac Lake
9:11 p.m. - checks into Best Western Mountain Lake Inn
10 p.m. - using computer in hotel lobby, sends email to father, leaving him all his possessions
8 a.m. - eats breakfast at McKenzie's Grille
11:05 a.m. - seen walking east on Lake Flower Avenue near Turtle Pond
Noon - seen walking east on railroad tracks near Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook
"Defence is providing support to the member's family and continues to work with U.S. and Australian authorities to locate the member," the spokesperson said.
McKay was reported missing by his father, John McKay, who lives in Australia, on Friday after he received an email from his son saying he was giving him all his possessions. Nason said John McKay tracked the IP address of the email to the Best Western, then contacted village police. He also tried unsuccessfully to call his son's cellphone.
"From every report we've received, (Paul McKay) may be in possession of a cellphone, but they've also told us that because of the technology and the type of phone, it won't work in the U.S.," Nason said. "We've checked phone records. His phone hasn't been used."
Police have determined that Paul McKay flew from Australia to Newark, New Jersey, arriving the night of Dec. 29. He then traveled by bus to Saranac Lake, arriving sometime on Dec. 30, and spent that night at the Best Western. He left the hotel around 10 a.m. the following morning, paid cash for breakfast at the adjoining McKenzie's Grille and apparently started walking east on Lake Flower Avenue.
Nason said police don't plan to conduct a more extensive ground search until they get "more concrete information" about where McKay has been or where he was going.
"We've had (volunteers) offer and we've discussed with them the possibility of doing some kind of search, but we haven't finalized anything yet because I don't want to just send out anybody, especially in this kind of cold, without any more information," Nason said.
Why McKay came to Saranac Lake and the Adirondacks still remains a mystery, Nason said Tuesday.
"We're still following up with leads in Australia as far as locating friends or acquaintances of his to see if they can help us or give an idea where he might be headed to," the chief said. "That might give us better insight as to what his thought process was in the days leading up to him coming here."
The Enterprise found Facebook and LinkedIn pages for McKay Tuesday that provide some more information about his personal life and his military background. The Facebook page was created on Dec. 27, just two days before McKay left Australia for the U.S. It contains a series of roughly 15 pictures, including several of McKay in military dress uniforms bedecked with medals. One of those formal pictures is captioned "Captain McKay." There are also photos from military training exercises in the jungles of Malaysia and tourist-looking photos of McKay in civilian clothes at sites in Indonesia and Cambodia. In another photo, captioned "Graduation Day," McKay is standing with his parents wearing a cap and gown, holding up a diploma.
McKay's LinkedIn page says he was in the Royal Australian Regiment from January 2010 to April 2011, serving in Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia as a platoon commander conducting jungle and urban operations. The site also says he was in Afghanistan for 10 months from April 2011 to January 2012, serving as a military operations officer in the Uruzgan and Daykundi provinces. It says McKay was a battle captain on shift in October 2011 at Sorkh Bed Forward Operating Base when an Afghan solider opened fire on a group of 10 Australian soldiers, killing three and an interpreter, and seriously injuring seven other Australian troops.
Since returning from Afghanistan, McKay's LinkedIn page says he worked for two years for the Australian government's Defence Materiel Organisation. In December he joined the Australian Army's Directorate of Global Operations, Joint Operations Command. He's also volunteered over the past year as an operations officer and communications specialist with the Australian Capital Territory's State Emergency Service, a disaster and emergency response organization.
The page also lists several commendations McKay has received, including the Australian Defence Medal, Australian Army Combat Badge and Afghanistan Campaign Medal.
Anyone with information about McKay's whereabouts is asked to contact village police at 518-891-4428.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.