Source AP ©

Rescuers stop searching for last Russian tourist missing in China

Search teams in western China have called off the hunt for the final missing member of an ill-fated Russian canoe expedition, state media said Thursday.

Russian and Chinese rescuers met Wednesday in the city of Hotan in China's Central Asian frontier province of Xinjiang and agreed to end their joint 16-day search, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

"They said they had found no sign of a survivor in the area," Xinhua said. The missing man has been identified as Dmitry Tishchenko.

Two of the expedition's six members, Alexander Zverev and Andrei Pautov, were found alive last week. Rescuers earlier found the bodies of three others who were apparently killed in river accidents.

Difficult terrain and dust storms hampered the search.

The six Russians set out Aug. 21 for a 12-day trip down the Yurungkax river, which cuts through the rugged Kunlun Mountains before running dry in the Taklamakan Desert. They were reported missing after they failed to appear at a Sept. 2 rendezvous.

Elevations of 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) and rocky, fast-flowing rapids make canoeing on the river dangerous.

In an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday, Zverev, 35, said he ate no food over the 25 days before his rescue on Friday, surviving only on river water. He dropped from 82 kilograms (181 pounds) to a mere 58 kilograms (128 pounds).

"The Yurungkax took the lives of my companions, but I must thank her for saving me and allowing me to survive those 25 days," Zverev was quoted as saying from his bed at the Regional People's Hospital in Hotan, about 3,000 kilometers (about 1,900 miles) west of the Chinese capital, Beijing.

Zverev said the expedition first ran into trouble on Aug. 24, when their canoes encountered rough water on a bend in the river.

Father and son Sergey and Ivan Chernik capsized and drowned, Zverev said. Their bodies were later found along the river bank covered by their canoe.

The team met with further difficulties on Aug. 28, when the remaining canoes capsized and the four men were separated.

Pautov, 28, told Xinhua he kept in motion throughout the night for fear of freezing to death in his sleep.

"All night I heard the wind and the howls of distant wolves. I couldn't help but feel like I'd been forgotten by the world," Pautov said.

Tishchenko is officially listed as missing. Vladimir Smetannikov's body was earlier found by rescuers.

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