Gascoyne miracle rescue: The moment TRG trackers found 80-year-old man missing for two days
An exhausted and dehydrated 80-year-old man lies on the red dirt of the Gascoyne with a backpack for a makeshift pillow, lost after venturing 14km on foot in bushland, as his rescuers from Perth’s tactical response group circle around him.
In another image, the man’s pulse is checked by one of his outback saviours as he rests against a weathered tree that provides little shade. Police say it’s a miracle the man survived two freezing nights lost in the remote outback of WA’s unforgiving Gascoyne when temperatures dipped to as low as 3C.
In vision of his arrival at Geraldton Airport via rescue chopper, officers greet the elderly bushwalker on a stretcher, with the rescued man telling them he’s doing OK after his incredible tale of survival.
On Friday, the 80-year-old from Lake Barlee station near Sandstone travelled from his homestead and ended up stranded in the bush for two days after leaving his vehicle and trying to walk to his destination. He was found 14km from his abandoned ute.
When he left his home around 10.30am on Friday and did not return in the afternoon, a carer who resides at the property began to look for the man.
Mid West-Gascoyne Police District Superintendent Steve Post said when the carer discovered the man’s abandoned ute he raised the alarm with his daughter who was living in another part of the State.
“At around 10.45pm on Friday night the family reported his disappearance to police. The Mount Magnet afternoon shift ventured out into the night driving for a number of hours to reach the property and commence the search,” he said.
Supt Post said in the early hours of Saturday morning police sent in a larger search operation, which included a search specialist from Perth, three specialist trackers from the TRG as well as crews from DFES, SES crews and Geraldton and Mount Magnet police.
“Because of the remoteness of the location it did take some time,” Supt Post said.
“TRG trackers are specially trained with skills to locate people in these remote and isolated areas and it was really those resources that proved to be most important to this search effort.”
The search continued past sunset until about 11.50pm on Saturday, and Supt Post said the crew stopped and slept overnight in their tracks and continued on at sunrise.
“They continued until it was too unsafe and they actually laid on the ground in 3C temperatures — probably even colder on the ground — as did the missing person. They rested there for a while until first light when they took of again in pursuit of the missing person,” he said.
TRG Superintendent Peter Hatch said the TRG crew had an AMSA supply drop of food and water to allow the specialists to continue their search.
Just before lunch time on Sunday, the 80-year-old man was found thirsty, dehydrated and leaning against a tree about 160km south-west of Sandstone or 450km north of Kalgoorlie near Lake Barlee.
Supt Post said the man was relieved to see the rescue crews, and in such a remote area with dense bushland the successful mission was “nothing short of a miracle”.
The man was airlifted by an RAC rescue helicopter sent from Perth as the sun was setting on Sunday night and taken to Geraldton hospital.
A WA Country Health Service spokesperson confirmed on Monday the man was in a stable condition.
“The TRG officers were elated to have completed their mission and particularly find him alive,” Supt Post said.
Supt Post said the man was fortunate there was no wet weather and his tracks remained in place.
“The chances of surviving any longer than when we found him is quite remote,” he said.
The man’s relieved family released a statement on Monday morning, thanking all involved in the search, especially the TRG members and search coordinators who worked tirelessly to bring him home in “extreme conditions and a hostile environment”.
“Their elite skills, extraordinary dedication and commitment made the difference between life and death. We would also like to thank the WA Police Force members and SES personnel who assisted with the search,” they said.
“The combined efforts of all parties involved made it possible to deliver the best possible outcome.”
The family asked for privacy as they recovered from the ordeal.
Police took the opportunity to remind people in remote WA — who are both experienced in the area or visiting — to always remain within a safe distance from their vehicle and not lose sight of the vehicle.
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