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Darko Prlenda: Police continue search for missing Perth adventurer in Kalbarri

Lachlan Allen and Jessica MoroneyMidwest Times
Darko Prlenda, a 46-year-old man from Perth, was last seen at the Natural Bridge lookout on Thursday night.
Camera IconDarko Prlenda, a 46-year-old man from Perth, was last seen at the Natural Bridge lookout on Thursday night. Credit: The West Australian

A regular rock climber’s disappearance remains unsolved after police and SES crews scoured gorges along Kalbarri, finding only a bag at the bottom of a cliff.

Darko Prlenda, a 46-year-old man from Perth, was last seen at the Natural Bridge lookout on Thursday night.

He was reported missing on Saturday morning by the owners of the Kalbarri Red Bluff Tourist Park, after he had not been seen for two days.

Mr Prlenda was staying at the short-stay caravan park having arrived in Kalbarri on Thursday, October 27. His hire car and belongings remain at the caravan park.

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Missing man Darko Prlenda.
Camera IconMissing man Darko Prlenda. Credit: WA Police

Kalbarri State Emergency Service local manager Steve Cable said SES crews stopped their search on Monday, after searching the two days prior to no avail. He said police continued searching with drones.

“Police determined someone was missing, they requested the most highly likely place between Red Bluff car park and along the cliff faces as there was potential for him to be along there,” he said.

“They knew he was in the caravan park and because of the circumstances at the caravan park they became concerned.”

Mr Cable said up to nine SES crew members searched the country until Eagle Gorge.

“The next day the rangers found a rope with a bag hanging over the cliff face. We went out to search for it, raised the bag and left that for police,” he said. The bag and rope were found about 15-20m away from the ocean, Mr Cable said.

Kalbarri SES searched north and south of Pot Alley.
Camera IconKalbarri SES searched north and south of Pot Alley. Credit: Jessica Moroney/Geraldton Guardian

Mr Cable said two air spotters were sent around 4pm on Sunday to search the cliff faces and searched until 7.30pm.

“The crew were stood down for the night and police decided they would use drones,” he said.

Mid West-Gascoyne District Inspector Jayd Morawski said on Monday afternoon that police are actively engaged in both land and marine search in the Natural Bridge area.

“We’re unsure at this point in time as to why he’s gone to the Natural Bridge area but we are confident that was the last place he was sighted,” he said.

Insp. Morawksi said the land search for Mr Prlenda would continue until last light on Monday, but the marine search has been halted.

“We can’t do any more marine search today, the sea state simply doesn’t allow this. The risk to searchers far outweighs the reward of searching,” he said.

Kalbarri Police continue searching for Darko Prlenda near Natural Bridge Kalbarri.
Camera IconKalbarri Police continue searching for Darko Prlenda near Natural Bridge Kalbarri. Credit: Jessica Moroney/Geraldton Guardian

Geraldton, Northampton and Kalbarri Police are all involved in the thorough search, which includes a land, sea and air response, with drones and marine search and rescue vessels involved.

“They’ve been supplemented by aircraft inclusive of the AMSA challenger jet. So we’ve had significant resources in the area. Now those resources are actively searching at this time, and they’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Insp Morawski said.

Insp. Morawski said police had notified Mr Prlenda’s family on Saturday and have maintained “significant” contact with them.

“They’ve given us a lot of information around his capabilities and experience in remote wilderness areas but obviously, they are concerned as well. There hasn’t been any contact from Mr Prlenda since Thursday evening. So they do share some concerns,” he said.

Insp. Morawski refused to comment on Mr Prlenda’s mental health, but said the 46-year-old was physically fit and healthy.

Mr Prlenda is believed to be an experienced adventurer and climbed to the base camp at Mount Everest in 2019. At the time, he worked for mining company Minprovise.

Kalbarri Red Bluff Tourist Park.
Camera IconKalbarri Red Bluff Tourist Park. Credit: Jessica Moroney/Geraldton Guardian

A family staying at the Red Bluff Caravan Park said they became aware of Mr Prlenda’s unknown whereabouts when they checked into reception.

“I was at reception when the police were here, so I obviously heard about it and then we saw a helicopter at about 2am this morning,” one woman said.

“It’s just not a nice feeling when you see or hear something like that,” another said.

“We saw a photo of him and he’s quite a nice looking guy, it’s very sad for his family and I do hope they find him.”

The women agreed that it was important Mr Prlenda’s family were able to find closure.

Darko Prlenda pictured at Mount Everest in 2019 after scaling the base camp.
Camera IconDarko Prlenda pictured at Mount Everest in 2019 after scaling the base camp. Credit: Twitter

“It does make you wonder, they get to a point when they think of the worst case scenario. Once you know that they’ve stopped, they’re normally not holding onto much hope,” they said

The women said they heard he’d went for a walk towards the gorges and didn’t return.

Kalbarri Red Bluff Tourist Park declined to comment.

Anyone who sees Mr Prlenda, or who has information regarding his movements in the Kalbarri area over the last few days, is asked to contact WA Police on 131 444.

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