Tamra McBeath-Riley tells of surviving 13 days in the Outback
When a helicopter found Tamra McBeath-Riley stuck in the searing heat of the Central Australian Outback after 13 days, she thought it was because her partner Claire Hockridge and friend Phu Tran had reached safety and raised the alarm. She tells her story of survival in the shadow of the continued search for the others.
Ms Hockridge and Mr Tran remain missing and police have stepped up their search efforts.
The trio had previously told friends and family they were going for a daytrip drive south of Alice Springs, but failed to return home.
The trio were reported missing four days later by the daughter of one of the women.
AFTER surviving 13 days in the intense solar scorn of the Outback, coupled with freezing nights cuddling up with her dog, a blue staffordshire terrier called Raya, in a bush shelter in the middle of nowhere, Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, still does not know what happened to her girlfriend, and her friend.
The last she saw of them, they were cutting across the arid outback with a plan to follow the sun west to hit the Stuart Hwy, or find a track they could follow that would take them to someone, anyone who could help them.
She was found alive on Sunday during an aerial search about 1.5km from her white Mitsubishi dual cab ute that was bogged in the Finke River south of Alice Springs. She had set out two Sundays before for an afternoon of four-wheel driving.
Ms McBeath-Riley - who was speaking from outside Alice Springs Hospital with one of Ms Hockridge's triplets - had survived by filtering and boiling dirty water.
She had been treated for dehydration and exposure.
The trio set out for Chambers Pillar, some sandstone formations about 160km south of Alice on rough cattle station tracks.
But the direct way there on Jacana Rd was too rough so Ms McBeath-Riley drove along the Old Stuart Hwy and was planning on turning down Merrivale Rd, the old stock route, to meet up with Jacana Rd. But they missed the turn and end up driving through a gate further along.
"And I took a wrong turn basically and ended up being bogged, um yeah, I experienced something I wouldn't want to experience again," she said.
She said the trio did not move from the car for two or three days, after they ran out of supplies - they had just a packet of biscuits and beef noodles between them.
"(We left the car) just through looking for shelter because where we got bogged there were no trees or anything," she said.
"We tried several times, many times, to try to get out but we just couldn't get out.
"During the day it's just really hot so we dug ourselves under the car during the day into the sand.
They eventually left the car with a note showing the direction they were heading in.
"So we just ventured forth to try and find some shelter, some water," she said
"And we did, we found a cow waterhole.
"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."
She said they then moved along further to find a shelter with a lot more trees.
"And it had a saltwater water hole as well. 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."
She said they tried to dig sand out from under the tyres and put twigs and branches under them for traction.
"And then we would go forward again and just get bogged again," she said.
"So for about 20 or 30 metres it just kept going more and more. The river was just too large, we couldn't get out."
She broke down crying when asked what it was like to say goodbye to the others as they set off to try to reach safety.
"Tearful," she said.
"The decision to split up was … um … 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.
"Safer if there's two, and I stayed back with the dog, because the dog would not have made that, would not have made that trek.
"The plan was for the late afternoon and the nights to be doing the walking as it was a lot cooler. And they would rest during the day.
"And today is the fifth day of them doing that."
She said the car's TomTom GPS said Erldunda Roadhouse was 62km away. It also said there was a shorter way to the highway, about 22km, across the plains.
They were heading for the track they came in on but they couldn't see where it was from where they were camped.
The plan was just to follow the sun west, a simple idea but extreme in danger.
"When the helicopter found me I thought Claire and Phu had reached the highway," she said.
"That was my immediate thought. So to find out that that is not the case is worrying."
She had given Mr Tran her boots to walk in, as he was just wearing thongs, so she had abrasions on her legs from walking back and forth between her "camp" and the waterhole.
"They did say, too, that … (they might also find) a track that would lead them somewhere. And so, yeah, one or the other," she said.
But that was five days ago. Five days of extreme daytime heat.
Alice Springs Police Superintendent Pauline Vicary said they had found a set of prints and Ms Hockridge and Mr Tran had taken six litres of water with them, apart from the TomTom and the compass.
Supt Vicary thanked the efforts of the staff at Henbury Station, who noticed and reported unusual tracks in the area.
The tip-off allowed police to narrow down their search.
In the days following the trio being reported missing police conducted air searches of the Stuarts Well, Owen Springs and Henbury Station areas.
Now all Ms Beath-Riley can do is wait.