A week has now passed since the 65-year-old Arachnophobia star’s wife, writer Evgenia Citkowitz, told authorities that her husband had disappeared while hiking alone in California’s San Gabriel mountain range, some 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
The sheriff’s department has now revealed that phone data has provided insights into the actor’s potential whereabouts. On Sunday, two days after Sands was reported missing, signals sent from phone masts to his mobile showed him heading to the Mount Baldy area.
Further attempts to locate the device were unsuccessful, “due to the lack of cell service and most likely cell phone power failure”, the sheriff’s department said on Thursday.
However, a delayed ping to his iPhone from the previous day also provided a possible location on one of the trails leading to the summit of the 10,000ft peak, known officially as Mount San Antonio.
The area was checked by ground searchers and by helicopter – but they were unable to locate any sign of Sands and searches on the ground were called off due to the dangerous conditions on Saturday evening.
Sands is a keen hiker and mountain climber who once described his happiest moment as “close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning”.
Sharing the last-known pictures of Sands mountaineering with The Independent on Thursday, a family member said: “This is how he would love to be seen, doing what he loved best – a heroic mountaineer, and thrilled to send a picture of him looking so happy to share with his beloved grandson, Billy.”
The images taken in September showed the Hollywood actor, born in Otley, Yorkshire, scaling a section of the 14,783ft Weisshorn, a pyramid-shaped mountain lying 15 miles from the Matterhorn. It is described by climbing experts as “more serious” than its famous neighbour.
California has been hit by a string of violent winter storms that have brought flooding and major snowfall, prompting power cuts and evacuations and leading to the deaths of at least 19 people.
According to the sheriff’s department, it has launched 14 search and rescue missions in the Mount Baldy area alone over the past month, with two hikers dying on the mountain. Sheriffs in Los Angeles county are also currently searching the San Gabriel range for missing 61-year-old hiker Robert Gregory.
Urging people to stay away, sheriffs in San Bernardino warned that the area is “extremely dangerous even for the skilled hiker”.
“Current weather conditions and low cloud coverage makes it very difficult to deploy resources to that area when a hiker goes missing,” they added. “When we do deploy resources, the weather plays a huge factor on what resources we can use.”
Sands is perhaps most famed for his turn in the Oscar-nominated 1985 film A Room with a View. He shares two daughters, Imogen and Natalya, with his wife Citkowitz, and fathered son Henry with his ex-wife, the British journalist and former Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands.