THE reported sighting of a man running through Tarrone farmland yesterday afternoon sparked a high-level police response with fears it may be convicted child rapist and prison fugitive Andrew Darling.
A police helicopter and dog squad were despatched and the Fugitive Taskforce in Melbourne co-ordinated what was looking like a major manhunt unfolding.
It is understood the tip-off came from a passer-by who reported seeing someone getting through a fence and crossing a paddock near Tarrone Road.
Police officers doorknocked local residents warning them to lock their buildings and vehicles, while passing drivers were alerted to keep a lookout for the offender.
Then the adrenalin rush suddenly came to a halt.
A local farmer, after hearing a local radio bulletin, realised it had all been a big misunderstanding.
He had earlier bogged his vehicle and then jogged home about three kilometres away.
“It appears he had been running from tree to tree to get out of the rain,” Sergeant Callum McKinnon of Warrnambool police said.
“Then when he got home and changed into dry clothes he heard an item on the radio and said to himself “that’s me”.
“So he went out and saw a local policeman to tell him what really happened.
“The person who saw him did the right thing and contacted police, then we acted on the information.”
Police from Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Koroit, Macarthur and Penshurst assisted with the doorknocks and traffic alerts.
A police media unit spokeswoman said there had been numerous reported sightings across the state since Darling went missing from the Ararat correction centre on July 6.
He is aged 42 and is described as Caucasian, about 176cm tall, medium build with blue eyes, fair hair and fair complexion.
Darling has pierced ears and tattoos on his right lower leg, back and arms.
People have been advised not to approach him and contact police on triple-0.
Darling is known to have good bush survival skills.