Keilor Downs man Julio Ascui missing in Grampians National Park

EMERGENCY services have launched a large-scale search and rescue operation in the Grampians in a bid to find a Keilor Downs man.

Julio Ascui, 50, also known as Lester, was reported missing after he had failed to contact family members since Friday.

Family members found his car at a carpark on the corner of Stoney Creek Road and Rosea Track in Halls Gap at 5pm on New Year’s Eve.

Police believe the car had been parked there since Friday.

Julio Ascui, 50,

Julio Ascui, 50,

Halls Gap Sergeant Karen Bain said there were no leads at this stage, but police didn’t suspect foul play. 

“We have grave concerns for his welfare,” she said. “No one knows what his intentions were or where he is.”

Sergeant Bain said State Emergency Service volunteers, police officers, Parks Victoria representatives and search and rescue specialists were in the park.

“We started the search on New Year’s Eve at 3pm, when the car was found,” she said.

“Prior to that, we had no idea where he was or if he was even in the Grampians.”

Sergeant Bain said the search had continued until nightfall every day since.

“The terrain is so harsh in the park that we don’t want to put anyone else at risk,” she said. She likened the case to the search for St Kilda man Gerard VanDerWerf in 2016.

Mr VanDerWerf went missing in September 2016 and still has not been found.

Sergeant Bain said police did not know what Mr Ascui had taken with him or what he was wearing.

Mr Ascui’s son-in-law Andrew Chahine said the family had not given up hope.

He said more than 25 friends and family had joined the search. “It is peak season in the Grampians, so there is nowhere for anyone to stay, so we keep coming and going,” he said. He said Mr Ascui enjoyed rock-climbing.

Mr Ascui’s daughter Jessica Ascui Ordonez said it was not normal for her father to go out without telling anyone. Mr Ascui is 165 centimetres tall, bald, of medium build and tanned.

He was last seen wearing a blue and white weatherproof jacket with a blue T-shirt and brown baseball cap.

Police have urged anyone with information to call Halls Gap Police Station on 5356 4411.