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In August 1985, he set off from Charlotte Pass ski village, possibly intending to ski to the nearby Thredbo ski resort. It is believed that, as he travelled, Crean became lost in the falling snow and died of exposure. His disappearance resulted in one of the most intensive searches undertaken in the Australian snowfields, but the search did not recover his body. Two years later, a skier found his body by chance, only a few kilometres from Charlotte Pass.
Crean's disappearance resulted in an extensive debate about the methodology of searching for missing persons, and also about requiring new safety regulations for skiers and walkers using remote areas.