The outback is a very beautiful place – but venture into it unprepared and you’ll soon find out just how hazardous it can be. Lauren Camp explores a few of the more miraculous (and ridiculous) stories of wilderness survival in what can often be a harsh and unforgiving place.
1. Spiritual quest goes awry
One of Australia’s most famous outback desert rescues occurred in 1999, when 33-year-old Alaskan fire fighter Robert Bogucki was found after 43 days wandering lost and alone in the Great Sandy Desert on a quest to “make peace with God”. A little unluckily for Bogucki (and pray this never happens to you), he was found in some gorges east of Broome, not by police, Aboriginal trackers or the professional team of rescuers brought in from the US, but by Channel Nine’s A Current Affair news team.
ACA came under intense scrutiny when it was revealed that, instead of flying him to a nearby camp to receive medical treatment, they spent almost 20 minutes interviewing Bogucki before flying him an hour back to Broome with their own TV reporter.
All-told, the rescue cost police and Bogucki’s parents around $150,000 – and Bogucki, who lost 20kg and survived by drinking muddy water and eating flowers and plants, told BBC News that he’d definitely “scratched the itch” that had him out there in the first place.
2. Addicted to getting lost
In September 2006 in Alice Springs, 50-year-old English tourist Martin Lake earned himself the nickname “the Bumbling Brit” when he got lost, in the words of local police, “within shouting distance of help”.
Wearing a black T-shirt and shorts, with no water, no hat and an almost-flat phone battery, he wandered off the path while looking for the old telegraph station north of town and wasn’t found for three days. But that’s not the absurd part. After apologising and receiving a stern lecture from rescue services, less than a week later he became lost again, under a mile from the exact same spot.
The helicopters and search parties were organised once more, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars for local taxpayers, and Lake was re-rescued, this time after four days of wandering. It’s believed that he returned to the area because he dropped something the first time around and wanted to retrieve it.
3. Always carry a gizmo
In January 2009, an experienced Romanian hiker, who’d previously trekked through the likes of South America and Asia, got a nasty fright when he became lost for six days during a 45km walk near Uluru.
He ran out of food and water on day three and had to head sluggishly back. Once within mobile phone range – which is pretty incredible because the reception is very dodgy out there – he managed to alert rescuers by getting a message to his family back in Romania, including his GPS location.
Rescuers said it was this fact alone that saved the man, which proves how important it is to be well prepared in the food, water and GPS stakes before venturing into the unknown.
4. Survival of the fittest
When 35-year-old Ricky Megee from Brisbane was heading to Port Hedland in late January 2006, he stopped to help a group of stranded motorists near the WA/NT border and agreed to ferry the smallest of the group to the nearest town.
That fateful day ended with Megee being drugged by his passenger and left for dead in a ditch, covered by a tarpaulin weighted down with rocks. He then wandered aimlessly for ten days before setting up camp under an old cattle trough beside a dam, which allowed him a constant flow of water and a diet of toads and lizards.
He survived in this fashion for ten weeks, before being discovered and rescued by two passing station hands – 60kg lighter, lucky to be alive.
Check out his book Left for Dead.
5. No water, plenty of beer
In October 2002, 36-year-old German man Kim Hardt sat alone in his 4WD for three days after getting bogged at Lake Disappointment on the rugged Canning Stock Route. He’d heard about the challenge the CSR presented to outback drivers on a German TV show, which must have been missing a few salient survival details because Hardt showed up by himself with hardly any water, no phone or GPS, but carrying ten litres of beer and a packet of bikkies.
Nothing like being well prepared. Some fellow tourists discovered Hardt and were able to leave some more water while they trundled off to alert a rescue team. By the time the team returned, Hardt was drinking the salt water from Lake Disappointment. Apparently he’d thought it would take about three days to traverse the 1700km CSR, 900 sand dunes and all.
6. Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire engine
This might not quite qualify as a survival story, but back in 2000, 43-year-old Edward Furtak got it into his head that a good way to give up smoking would be to drive his ancient converted fire engine into the desert and camp by himself for six months. “I needed to actually get out in the middle of nowhere where I just couldn’t have a smoke,” he said later in an ABC radio interview.
While he claimed he “had a great time”, his parents certainly didn’t, reporting him missing after three months. A police search was mounted but proved fruitless. The mystery of his disappearance from Sydney was finally solved after another three months went by, and he emerged from the desert into the small town of Forrest, 1150km east of Perth, to call his mum on her 78th birthday.