Graphic: SOS

Lost travellers treated by Flying Doctor after being found in the outback

Date published

14 Jan 2021
Nicky and Jose

The Flying Doctor is encouraging people to take extra precautions when driving outback areas after a couple from Adelaide got lost in remote South Australia after their travel plans were changed due to Coronavirus. 

José (29) and Nicky (32) are lucky to be alive after their car became stuck in the sand on their return to Adelaide from Cairns on the 3rd of January. 

The couple wanted to travel through New South Wales on their way home, but due to Coronavirus border closures, José, Nicky and their puppy, Loki were forced to drive through remote South Australia in their Toyota RAV4 on the advice of another road traveller. 

Their car became bogged in the sand on an outback road, after taking a wrong turn. After desperately trying to free their car and hours of waiting, they gave up and abandoned their Toyota RAV4, leaving a note to say they were walking to Innamincka and that they desperately needed help. 

"It was so hot, and we were scared, I thought we were going to die," José said. 

"My phone said SOS only, and I kept trying over and over again to call for help, but the call wouldn't go through," José said. 

They walked over 40 kilometres, leaving notes and scrawling "SOS" in the dirt in the hopes that someone would find them. 

In an act of desperation, José drank some muddy water from a cow trough, water leaking from a solar panel and even some of his own urine. Nicky who didn't have as strong a stomach as José was getting weaker and weaker from dehydration and was struggling to walk. 

"We hardly spoke while we walked because our mouths were so dry. We had little food left but we couldn't eat it because we had no saliva and couldn't swallow."

"I was worried my fiancé Nicky wouldn't make it as she was needing more and more breaks to rest, and I had to beg her to keep walking," José said.

The pair spent two days without food or water until they were found when Craig, a remote worker from Santos came across the couple at a satellite station near Innamincka. The worker had seen calls for help, which included handwritten notes dropped on the ground and “SOS” etched into the roadside. He gave them water and food and took them to the Innamincka Trading post to recover. 

"Craig told us he only took that road once every six weeks, and we had another 25km to walk to get to Innamincka. If he hadn't found us, we would have perished," José said.

Nurse Chris Belshaw

Nicky and José were then taken to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Remote Clinic where RFDSSE Nurse Practioner Chris Belshaw checked them over.

"I went through full physical assessment and they were in remarkably good physical condition, but a bit emotional as it was dawning on them just how at risk they were," Chris said. 

"Luckily for them, the temperature was lower than usual for this time of year, and only in the mid to high 30's....usually it is 45° at this time of year. If it was the normal temperature then I believe they would have perished," Chris said.

The pair stayed at the Trading Post to rest and the following day the local ranger took them out to help recover their car from the road.

"We are so grateful for Craig and the Flying Doctor, we wouldn't be here without them," José said. "I will never view life the same again, we are lucky to be alive."

José and Nicky plan to stay home for the foreseeable future but say they would do things differently if they had to travel through remote areas again.

"If we had to travel in the outback again, we would buy a satellite phone, and make sure the authorities in the town ahead knew to expect us," José said.

Note

The Flying Doctor says this incident comes as a timely reminder to take precautions when travelling in the outback. Nurse Chris recommends the following to make your journey safer:

- Let someone know your route and where and when you will stop and check-in
- Take physical maps with you, do not rely on Google maps
- Bring communication devices suitable for outback regions, satellite phone (you can hire them) UHF radio, EPIRB for dire events
- Ensure your vehicle is fit for conditions with enough spares and tools to dig yourself out of trouble
- Pack enough spare water for 4 days, a minimum of 5 litres per day per person, in addition to some food/snack bars
- Carry a traveller’s First Aid kit for minor injuries
- If you break down, stay with your vehicle. A vehicle stuck in mud or sand is easy to see from the air in the station choppers, you have more chance of being rescued alive if you stay put
 

ABOUT THE ROYAL FLYING DOCTOR SERVICE

The not-for-profit Royal Flying Doctor Service has been taking the finest healthcare to the furthest corners of Australia since 1928. It provides primary healthcare and 24-hour emergency cover to 90 per cent of the Australian continent, via a modern fleet of specially equipped aircraft.