Marseille: French tourists believed missing after their abandoned canoe was discovered at a popular holiday spot, sparking a massive manhunt, were safe at home all along, legal and police sources said on Saturday.
The discovery of an empty canoe floating in the Lac de Sainte-Croix in the heart of Provence triggered fears for a couple and two children believed to have rented it on Thursday.
About 40 rescuers, backed up by a helicopter, divers and sniffer dogs, had been scouring the picturesque emerald lake and its surrounds ever since, in a rescue operation closely followed by local media.
However, today the occupants of the canoe - in fact two couples and no children -came forward after a friend of one of the "missing" couples alerted police.
The prosecutor for the commune of Draguignan, Danielle Drouy-Ayral, said gendarmes questioned one of the women, who "admitted it was her and her friends who abandoned the canoe after having navigation troubles and getting into an argument."
"A little worried about the consequences it could have, they didn`t want to come forward," the prosecutor said, adding that it was not possible to press charges against the tourists.
Gendarme Captain Frederic Del Aguila said that "in a panic" the group had taken the oars and life jackets with them as they left the canoe and had returned home.
He welcomed the "happy outcome" of the affair.
Holidaymakers flock to the lake, renting canoes and paddle-boats to make their way up the Gorges de Verdon, a spectacular river canyon that is 25 kilometres long and up to 700 metres deep in places.