The boyfriend of a British woman missing in the US Virgin Islands has told friends he is “in pieces” over her disappearance as search and rescue volunteers hunt for clues to her whereabouts.
Sarm Heslop, 41, from Southampton, (pictured right) was last seen on March 7 before vanishing from the catamaran on which she had been staying with her American boyfriend, Ryan Bane, off the island of St John.
“The last message I had from him was ‘I’m in pieces’,” said Flora Pickard, a friend of the couple.
“He is totally distraught. He doesn’t like being in the public spotlight, it’s not his style. He just pursues his dream of living quietly on a yacht with his dog. He really is so confused.”
Bane, a charter captain, has told police he was woken in the night by the vessel’s anchor alarm — which sounds if the boat drags anchor — and found Heslop gone.
He called friends at about 2am to say he could not find her but did not immediately contact the authorities because, according to friends, it was not too unusual for Heslop to take off unannounced. Bane called the US Coast Guard later that morning.
“You might go for a night out and be sitting in the pub with her and then she’d disappear, not even say ‘See you tomorrow.’ Then the next day she’d be back. It wasn’t unusual,” said Pickard.
“I wouldn’t put it past her if she’d gone up [on deck] for a cigarette and someone went past on a dinghy and said ‘Come and party with us,’” said Pickard, speaking from the island of St Barts yesterday where she was working as a chef on a charter yacht.
“I’m very hopeful about that. It’s a slim chance,” she said.
Vicki Mogridge-Percy, a friend in Southampton, described Heslop as a free-spirited traveller who liked to experience the world. “That’s what makes her uniquely brilliant,” she said.
“Sarm was incredibly smart, she was a sensible person, it’s unlikely she would have done something silly. I’m desperately worried about her. We just want a really thorough investigation and to be sure no stone is unturned.”
Heslop, a former flight attendant, met Bane in Grenada last year, moved to Malta for work for a short period, then returned to the Caribbean after deciding she did not want to be apart from him.
“It didn’t take long being in Malta before she changed her mind and flew back to be with him,” said Pickard. “He was delighted. It was the best news all of us could hear.”
Heslop had spent the day before her disappearance working her first full day on Bane’s charter catamaran, Siren Song, entertaining clients and cooking for them. They went ashore to a restaurant that evening and were anchored around 150 metres off shore for the night.
Police would not confirm yesterday whether they had yet searched Siren Song.
Trevor Velinor, Virgin Islands Police Commissioner, said: “The Department employs competent and committed individuals who are relentlessly investigating all possible leads into Ms Heslop’s disappearance. While we do have some concerns regarding the details thus far, detectives are thoroughly investigating the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.”
He added: “We are working within the parameters of the law to gather all items of value to the case. We thank those who have provided information and urge others to come forward with any information they can provide, no matter if it seems insignificant.”