ARADE DAM, Portugal (AP) — Police on Tuesday renewed the search for Madeleine McCann, the British child who disappeared in 2007 in Portugal, with officers digging and scraping the surface of land near a dam close to where she went missing.
About 20 officers with rakes and hoe-like tools spread out in a line and began poking and raking the soil close to the Arade dam, which is located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the resort of Praia da Luz, where the 3-year-old girl was last seen 16 years ago.
Police also used a drone to scan the area from above and searched with sniffer dogs on both sides of the dam. Firefighters also carried out searches on the reservoir in a dinghy.
There were no immediate details on what progress was being made.
A media briefing is expected at the end of the searches Wednesday or Thursday.
The operation, headed by Portuguese police aided by German and British colleagues, was announced Monday. Portuguese officials said it followed a request from German authorities.
Portuguese police on Monday had set up several tents and cordoned off the area to the media and public. More than a dozen cars and police vans arrived early Tuesday.
Between 20 and 30 officers, some in uniform, were in the area. Witnesses said that police began searching shortly before 8 a.m.
Portuguese media say this is the fourth search for McCann, following the initial one in 2007 in the Algarve area and further efforts in 2013 and 2014. Another search was held in Germany in 2020.
This search is believed to be the first in the area of the dam by police, but this couldn’t be immediately confirmed.
The reservoir is currently less than half full owing to a drought affecting Portugal and neighboring Spain. The area where police were working with the tools would be below water in years of normal rainfall.
In mid-2020, German officials said that a 45-year-old German citizen, identified by media as Christian Brueckner, who was in the Algarve in 2007, was a suspect in the case. Brueckner has denied any involvement.
Brueckner is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence in Germany for raping a 72-year-old woman in Portugal in 2005.
He is under investigation on suspicion of murder in the McCann case but hasn’t been charged. He spent many years in Portugal, including in Praia da Luz, around the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.
German prosecutors in Braunschweig said in a written statement Tuesday that criminal procedural measures were taking place in Portugal as part of the Madeleine McCann case and that officers from the Federal Criminal Police Office were taking part.
The statement said more detailed information could not be given for “investigative tactical reasons.”
The case of Madeleine McCann stirred worldwide interest for several years, with reports of sightings of her stretching as far away as Australia, along with a slew of books and television documentaries about the case.
Rewards for finding Madeleine, who would now be 20, reached several million dollars.
British, Portuguese and German police are still piecing together what happened on the night when the toddler disappeared from her bed in the southern Portuguese resort on May 3, 2007. She was in the same room as her twin brother and sister, who were 2 at the time, while her parents had dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant.
Referring to the latest searches, Braunschweig prosecutor Christian Wolters said Tuesday that the probe was being held “on the basis of certain tips,” but declined to give further details.
Madeleine’s parents are not commenting due to the active investigation, according to an email response from the website set up for the search for the child, findmadeleine.com.
Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, and Ciarán Giles and Jennifer O’Mahony in Madrid, contributed to this report.