‘You don’t forget these things’: Symi’s residents on aftermath of Michael Mosley’s death

“Thank God we found him.” Seated in his black leather office chair, surrounded by icons, oil paintings, photographs, medals and models ships, Lefteris Papakaloudoukas, Symi’s longtime mayor, is clearly relieved.

It’s 9am and almost 24 hours have elapsed since the body of the TV presenter Michael Mosley was found lying in a gulley of rocks and thistle only metres from the sea, beneath the perimeter fence of a beach bar.

If the health guru had not collapsed from what is widely believed to be heat- exacerbated exhaustion – two hours after setting out on what should have been an easy walk – he might have made it to the turquoise waters that engulf Ayia Marina. Which is why, barely a day later, Papakaloudoukas’s relief is tainted with remorse.

The mayor was among the first to lay eyes on Mosley – in images captured by a Greek camera operator working for the state channel ERT – but the outcome is not what he, or anyone on Symi, would have wished.

“What we had all hoped for was to find him alive,” he said, calling the five-day operation to locate the celebrity doctor, who disappeared as he attempted to hike from a beach in the north-east of the island to its elegant port town, “historic”.

“It’s very sad, very hard, but could you imagine if we hadn’t found him, if he had remained missing and his family had not been able to take him back home?” he asked. “In that sense, yes, I’m relieved.”

Map of Symi

Swept up in a media firestorm since Mosley’s disappearance, the tiny isle – tucked away in a remote corner of the Aegean – has been engulfed in the sort of drama few could have envisaged.

From Wednesday, when the Briton’s wife, Dr Clare Bailey, reported her husband missing, to Sunday, when his body was found, helicopters have flown overhead and coastguard patrol boats have scoured the seas while police and firefighters, backed by a rag tag army of volunteers, have searched valleys and hills. “And we had drones and divers and a [sniffer] dog too,” said the mayor, who was first elected 22 years ago.

“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing, the British ambassador has called, TV stations have called, English rescue workers have called and I’ve spoken to ministers in Athens. I usually deal with everyday problems, roads and lights, not this sort of thing.”

Emergency workers may now have left Symi but this early summer tragedy is not going to be forgotten any time soon. “Our island is not the sort of place where people go missing,” said Captain Giorgos, whose colourful fishing boat is a water taxi in the summer months.

“They looked for him everywhere,” he said, opening his arms wide to Symi’s forebodingly rocky landscape as the vessel chugged through silky seas from the village of Pedi to Ayia Marina. “Of course we’re shocked. It’s been very unpleasant and not just for us, for his family I’m sure.”

Captain Giorgos said Symi was ‘not the sort of place where people go missing’. Photograph: Helena Smith/ The Guardian

On an island so dependent on tourism, the drama has also sparked fears of negative press, but on Monday, when a coroner ruled out foul play – after a postmortem at Rhodes’ general hospital – those fears were outweighed by sadness and disbelief.

For most of Symi’s 3,000 residents, Michael Mosley is not a household name with few knowing of his contribution to public health, or tireless work promoting the benefits of the 5:2 diet and intermittent fasting. But among young and old inhabitants, surprise that a doctor would choose to make such an arduous trek in temperatures that last week triggered a meteorological alert, topping 37 degrees, was a common refrain.

“You just don’t ever hear about people disappearing on Symi and then being found dead,” sighed Giorgos Souroudi, a twentysomething who was selling tickets for the water taxi. “I can only think of one incident when, again, an older Englishman disappeared, but apparently he had dementia and was found alive, a few hours later, that same day.”

Ilias Tsavaris, a waiter at Ayia Marina, discovered Michael Mosley’s body after his boss was told by the mayor to check the perimeter fence. Photograph: Helena Smith/ The Guardian

In Ayia Marina, a resort that has the feel of an outpost in the far west, albeit one that is supremely civilised, the shock is still palpable even if life goes on. A day after Mosley was found dead the other side of its perimeter fence, tourists on Monday were lounging on beach beds and ordering white wine at its tile-topped tables to wash down the likes of eel and linguini, risotto and prawns. It was here on Sunday that a waiter, Ilias Tsavaris, was called by his boss to go and check the perimeter fence after being alerted by the mayor who believed that a TV camera operator had picked up “something strange” in the area. “Shock, shock,” said Tsavaris rubbing his tattooed arm. “That is what I felt and that is what I saw … you don’t forget these things.”

Set against a backdrop of rocky hills – in parts more lunar than rugged – Ayia Marina could not be a more incongruous place for such tragedy to play out. “We should honour this man with a headstone, a monument if, of course, his family agree,” said the mayor. “It’s part of our history now.”

The Guardian

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