The search for Ms Hockridge ended in a tragic discovery. Picture: Supplied
The search for Ms Hockridge ended in a tragic discovery. Picture: Supplied

Trio’s nightmare weeks in Aussie outback

What was meant to be a fun afternoon seeing the sights of the Northern Territory outback turned into a two-week-long nightmare that ended with tragedy.

On November 19, Tamra McBeath-Riley and her partner Claire Hockridge decided to take their friend Phu Tran on a day trip south of Alice Springs.

The trio, along with the couple's dog, set out in a 4WD for Chambers Pillar, a sandstone formation that is a popular spot for tourists.

On the way Ms McBeath-Riley decided the road that led to the site was too rough and instead took a detour along the Old Stuart Highway and planned to take a turn off to meet back up with the original road.

But the group missed the turn and they soon found themselves bogged in a dried up bed of the Finke River.

"And I took a wrong turn basically and ended up being bogged. I experienced something I wouldn't want to experience again," Ms McBeath-Riley told reporters earlier this week.

Tamra McBeath-Riley was the first of the group to be found. Picture: Emma Murray
Tamra McBeath-Riley was the first of the group to be found. Picture: Emma Murray

 

The trouble started when the group’s car became bogged. Picture: NT Police
The trouble started when the group’s car became bogged. Picture: NT Police

 

Ms McBeath-Riley said the river was "too large" and they couldn't get the car out.

"We tried several times, many times, to try to get out but we just couldn't get out," she said.

For days the group stayed with the car waiting to be rescued.

Their supplies were extremely limited, having only brought with them biscuits, instant noodles, bottled water and cans of pre-mixed vodka

Within a few days they had nearly exhausted their supplies.

Ms McBeath-Riley said the group desperately tried to shield themselves from the sun.

"During the day it's just really hot so we dug ourselves under the car during the day into the sand. At night they could sleep in the car," she said.

After about three days waiting with the car they decided to try and find some kind of shelter and water.

They left a note in the car explaining the direction they had left, in the hope that someone would find and rescue them.

"We just ventured forth to try and find some shelter, some water. And we did, we found a cow waterhole," Ms McBeath-Riley said.

"But it is what it is and you've got to do what you've got to do and we had to drink from that to survive."

Claire Hockridge and Phu Tran eventually walked on in an attempt to find help. Picture: Supplied
Claire Hockridge and Phu Tran eventually walked on in an attempt to find help. Picture: Supplied

 

Mr Tran was the second member of the group to be found. Picture: Emma Murray
Mr Tran was the second member of the group to be found. Picture: Emma Murray

The group used a T-shirt to try and filter the dirty water to make it drinkable.

After that they continued to walk, eventually finding another area with more trees.

They also found another waterhole but quickly found out it was filled with salt water and was undrinkable.

"You couldn't drink from that but at least we could get cool when it was really hot during the day. And it was freezing at night time," Ms McBeath-Riley said.

During the night temperatures plummeted and the trio huddled together with the dog in an effort to stay warm.

Eventually the group made the decision to split up. It was decided that Ms McBeath-Riley would stay at the watering hole with the dog, as it would not survive the journey.

Meanwhile Ms Hockridge and Mr Tran would walk on to try and find help.

They has a GPS with them and the plan was for Ms Hockridge and Mr Tran to walk towards the Stuart Highway, which was about 22km from where they were.

 

 

Ms McBeath-Riley said the decision to split up was extremely difficult but the group believed no one was looking for them.

"We didn't think anyone was looking for us which was obviously not the truth as I've found out," she said.

"So the quickest way to the highway or to get found was to walk."

The group had been reported missing four days after they became bogged but at this point they had been surviving in the outback for nine days.

Ms McBeath-Riley gave her boots to Mr Tran, who had only worn thongs, and the pair set off in the afternoon with a few litres of water.

Three days later Ms McBeath-Riley and the dog were rescued by a search helicopter after a cattle rancher alerted police to suspicious tire tracks, which lead searchers to the abandoned pick-up truck.

 

Trio stranded in Aussie outback.
Trio stranded in Aussie outback.

When she was rescued, Ms McBeath-Riley thought it meant that her partner and her friend had found help.

This was not the case.

Mr Tran was found two days later at Palmer Valley Station by cattle rancher Ted Fogarty, about 12km from their abandoned vehicle.

The rancher said the missing man was extremely disorientated when he found him.

Mr Tran said he had split with Ms Hockridge two days earlier when they were walking along a property fence line.

On December 4, rescuers made a tragic discovery, after locating a body believed to be Ms Hockridge.

Police have not revealed details of the circumstances of the death, which will be investigated by a coroner.

MANY 'UNDERESTIMATE' HARSH CONDITIONS

It is easy to underestimate just how difficult the conditions in the outback can be, with the extremely high temperatures making it very dangerous.

Acting District Manager for the Northern Territory Parks, Wildlife and Heritage Division of the Department of Tourism, Sport and Culture, Marty Krieg, said many people don't realise how quickly things can change in these areas.

"People underestimate how quickly heat stress and heat stroke can come on," he told news.com.au.

"The really high temperatures and dry conditions after often underestimated by visitors."

Mr Krieg said one of the most important things to remember is to be prepared.

"When people visit our parks to go four-wheel driving or hiking we encourage them to have safety measures in place," he said.

"One of the main things to remember is to bring plenty of water, more than you think you are going to need.

"Hats, long sleeve shirts, sunscreen and sunglasses are all items you need to have as well."

He said visitors should always notify someone about their plans and said if they do get lost then it is best to stay in one spot.

"If you get lost or stuck and you are in a vehicle it is best to stay with the car. If there is an aerial search a vehicle is going to spotted before an individual," he said.

"Rest as much as you can and stay in the shade. Take regular sips of water rather than drinking a whole lot as running out sooner."

He encouraged those thinking of visiting the area to check out the government's Beat the Heat campaign for tips on how to stay safe.



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