Dom Phillips: Pelé calls on Brazil to step up search for missing Amazon pair as helicopters deployed

A suspect, believed to be one of the men who issued a death threat to the pair, is arrested

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 09 June 2022 13:49 BST
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<p>File: Brazilian football legend Pele speaks during a meeting with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and France national football team in Paris</p>

File: Brazilian football legend Pele speaks during a meeting with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and France national football team in Paris

Reknowned footballer and three-time World Cup winner Pelé is leading the calls in Brazil for authorities to step up their search for a missing British journalist and an indigenous official – as helicopters were deployed to scour the depths of the Amazon rain forest.

Pelé, 81, considered a football legend, said in a tweet that he is moved by the disappearance of the pair Dom Phillips and Bruno Ferreira.

“The fight for the preservation of the Amazon Forest and of the indigenous groups belongs to all of us,” he said sharing the video by Mr Phillips’ wife who made the desperate plea to intensify the search.

“I am moved by the disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Ferreira, who dedicate their lives to this cause. I join the many voices that make the appeal to intensify the search.”

The words reflecting urgency in the case come as Brazilian police detained a suspect in the case, who was believed to be among a group of men who threatened Mr Phillips before he disappeared on Sunday.

Mr Philips, 57, who has been living in Brazil for a decade and is a contributor to The Guardian newspaper, was last seen in the remote Javari Valley, the second-largest Indigenous territory plagued with violent crimes by illegal poachers, drug traffickers, and illegal miners.

He was with Mr Pereira, one of the country’s top indigenous experts, to join him on the most recent trip as part of research for the British journalist’s book on Amazon conservation.

British journalist Dom Phillips, right, and a Yanomami Indigenous man walk in Maloca Papiu village, Roraima state, Brazil in 2019

As the search ran into the third day, the Brazilian authorities mobilised helicopters and the navy to conduct search by both air and water in a desperate bid to find the missing persons.

It was after a Brazilian federal court issued an order on Wednesday to authorities to provide more helicopters and boats.

Later in the evening at a conference, federal police showed multiple images and videos of the area taken earlier that day from a helicopter.

On Thursday, family members and well-wishers will hold a vigil for the missing pair in central London.

It would be led by Greenpeace with large posters of Mr Phillips and his companion outside the Brazilian Embassy at around 8am.

The suspect, 41-year-old Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also known as Pelado, who has not been linked to the case yet, was arrested for allegedly carrying a firearm without a permit, a common practice in the region.

“We’re looking for a possible link, but for now, we have nothing,” General Carlos Alberto Mansur, the state’s public security secretary, said at a news conference.

He said they do not have any concrete evidence to tie the man to the disappearances. But police said he is believed to be among the people who issued a death threat to the pair on Saturday.

A photograph shows British journalist Dom Phillips, who went missing while reporting in a remote and lawless part of the Amazon rainforest near the border with Peru, in Brazil, in this picture taken on December 2009

Police have also questioned five others in relation to the case but no arrests have been made so far.

In an emotional video message to authorities, Mr Phillips’ wife Alessandra Sampaio said: “We still have some hope of finding them. Even if I don’t find the love of my life alive, they must be found.”

In another tweet on Monday, she said: “It’s getting dark and Dom is out there somewhere in the forest waiting for help.”

“In the forest, every second counts, every second can mean life or death,” she wrote.

Prominent people from all walks of life, including scientists, artists, journalists and soccer stars, have joined her calls and demanded authorities to intensify their search.

Jill Langlois, a Brazilian independent journalist, shared Mr Phillips’ work in a long Twitter thread and demanded help of local representatives to bring both of them home.

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