An Israeli crew assisted by local volunteers and a pair of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students scoured the remote mountains near Kasol, India, Tuesday for signs of an Israeli backpacker missing since last week. According to people close to the investigation, the first full day of searching has turned up no sign of 24-year-old Amichai Shtainmetz, last seen on July 22.

Shtainmetz, who has spent the past five months in India, set out from the village of Khirganga on what was supposed to be a one-day trek to Bunbuny, but expatriates and travelers in the area grew worried when the army veteran failed to check in.

Over the weekend, an Israeli citizen now living and working in Manali, several hours from the mountain is believed to have disappeared, alerted Rabbis Yehuda Kirsch and Levi Pekar – who are in the country as part of the summer rabbinical visitation program operated by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch – of Shtainmetz’s disappearance. At the same time, the missing man’s family contacted an Israeli insurance company specializing in search-and-rescue abroad.

By the beginning of this week, two parallel efforts were underway to locate Shtainmetz. With the insurance company’s rescue team set up in Khalga, a four-hour hike from the man’s last-known location, Kirsch and Pekar hired jeeps and massed volunteers to travel from Manali to assist in the search.

Treacherous Terrain

The first jeeps departed Manali Monday night, depositing their passengers in Kasol, an hour’s journey by foot from Khalga. All told, some 50 volunteers, including two American reporters touched by the effort, are now operating out of Khalga, said Pekar. Several Jewish centers in the area, including the Breslov Center Bayit HaYehudi, are working to keep the volunteers fed.

Teams of 10 people each set out for the mountains on Tuesday.

Pekar said that weather and terrain have made the search difficult.

“The search has been complicated both by the treacherous landscape and by the monsoon [season],” he said. “Search teams have fought high winds and pounding rain.

“It is easy to get lost in the forest, particularly at this time of year,” he continued. “The same challenges which likely kept Amichai from reaching his destination have made the search for him difficult.”

Kirsch’s group, which included an Indian tracker, came across a red shirt similar to what Shtainmetz was wearing when he was last seen, but it turned out to have been too small. Later on Tuesday, the team found an apparent grave, but when they dug it up, it was empty.

After 12 hours of searching, they had reached only as far as Khirganga.

“Why is everyone looking for this guy?” asked one hotel owner in Khanga when he saw the massive effort underway. “Is he a celebrity?”

“No,” replied Pekar. “But we’re looking for him anyway, because all Jews are one family.”