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Mother vanishes "into thin air" after dropping daughters off at school

Specialist divers on Monday were scouring a river bed for traces of a missing woman, more than a week after she appeared to "vanish into thin air" leaving her phone still dialed into a work conference call at an isolated rural spot in northern England, police said.

Family and friends of Nicola Bulley, 45, have questioned the police theory that she fell into the river in a tragic accident. They say there is no evidence for the hypothesis which leaves them in a distressing limbo.

Nicola Bulley  Lancashire Police

The mortgage adviser was last seen 10 days ago walking her dog along the riverbank after dropping her two young daughters off at school as usual in the northwestern cvillage of St Michael's on Wyre.

Soon after, her dog was found running loose "in an agitated state" prompting a member of the public to raise the alarm.

With her mysterious disappearance making headline news, police on Friday said they were working on the assumption that Bulley slipped into the water.

"Our main working hypothesis, therefore, is that Nicola has sadly fallen into the river, that there is no third-party or criminal involvement and that this is not suspicious, but a tragic case of a missing person," said superintendent Sally Riley who is leading the police investigation.

Bulley's partner, Paul Ansell, released a statement through police on Monday saying that Bulley's two daughters "miss their mummy desperately" and "need her back."

The towpath runs alongside a steep riverbank but family members point to the lack of any footprints or scuffs in the mud to indicate she fell.

Her parents have expressed fears Bulley might have been abducted.

Her father, Ernest, 73, said last week there was no evidence to point to his daughter falling into the river and he feared somebody might have "got her."

"There are two young children there waiting for their mummy to come back," he said.

Bulley's sister Louise Cunningham added: "Somebody must know something. People don't just vanish into thin air."

Police divers have conducted searches of the river but say they failed to find any sign of the missing woman.

On Monday, a specialist underwater rescue team joined the search.

Forensic expert Peter Faulding, chief executive of Specialist Group International, said the high-tech sonar used by his firm was capable of seeing "every stick and stone lying on the riverbed."

The result of the search would allow police to confirm or deny "if Nicola is actually in this river," he said.

Specialist Group International posted images on Facebook of the search, which includes divers ,drones and helicopters.

Today we joined Lancashire Police in the continuing search for Nicola Bulley. Much of the river was searched today by...

Posted by Specialist Group International - SGI on Monday, February 6, 2023

"We will continue the search tomorrow to try and bring some form of closure to Nicola's family," the firm wrote. "Our thoughts [are] with Nicola's family and friends at this very difficult time."

Friend Emma White told the BBC the uncertainty was particularly difficult for the family.

"Following the hypothesis of the police that Nicola was in the river, we need some evidence to back that up either way," she said.

In November, Bulley -- who had frequently documented her walks on social media -- wrote on her Facebook page about the spot where she was last seen.

"Very foggy cold walk," she wrote, adding that the area was "spooky."

Detective Supt Rebecca Smith said the team working on the investigation are "completely dedicated and determined to find Nicola."

"As a mother myself, I can't even begin to imagine what her two children are going through," Smith said.

Nicola Bulley Lancashire Police

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