When gold fever seized Damo, it took a drone to bring him back
Shane’s story. As told to Mark Kendrick.
Shane and Damo were out on a long trip, from Sydney up through the Kimberleys and down through the middle of WA, a trip totalling 13,000km. Now, Damo was a keen metal detectorist and had a swing most mornings. Shane and Damo pulled into Everard Junction and rolled the swags out near the bore’s hand-pump at 2am, no worries. Damo does his usual, getting up early to swing the detector around. Shane stirs at 8am to quaint little yip-yipping as a pair of dingo pups drink from a bowl under the bore pump.
The usual morning routine is Shane hollers out to Damo so they can fix breakfast, break camp and move on. Damo usually responds and wanders back within a few minutes, but not this time. Five minutes pass, and Shane calls out again. He tries again another five minutes later, no response. The scrub around Everard Junction is over head high and while it isn’t a thicket, there are no straight viewing lines. If you were to wander out of sight of your 4X4 and not pay attention, you’re lost. There are no hills to climb. No tall trees or a windmill as a landmark. Deep down, Shane knew already that Damo wasn’t simply wandering back…
Shane figured that if Damo didn’t show by midday, he would have to make a missing person report to the police. While it could be a simple loss of direction, it could just as easily be a heart attack, a snake bite, or perhaps the Kurdaitcha Man got him…Standing on the roof of his Troopie and bellowing out as loud as he could, Shane still didn’t receive a response. He had a drone, and the battery was charged, so up it went and circled around. Even from the air, he couldn’t see Damo, sending it as far as a kilometre from the camp in big arcs to cover as much ground as he could. No sign. It was now getting on towards 9am. Drone battery recharged, another mission, again no sign.
He dug out a little air-powered siren, similar to the aerosol warning horns used on job sites but with a Schrader (tyre) valve to pump it back up – and it’s bloody loud. Connected to the air compressor it gives a mighty loud and long toot! A generous toot didn’t elicit an echo from Damo, still. More drone flights, more shouting, more hoping. Being lost in the desert isn’t a joke, and if it wasn’t a lack of directional awareness, time could be of the essence. Midday ticked over with no show from Damo. Shane called the police. Triple-zero answered the sat phone call, but part way through the call dropped out. Reconnecting to 000 once the satellite was in range was surprisingly easy for Shane, as the call operator had record of the call and took up exactly where left off previously.
Good job police! As an accurate location was required, the police officer advised that the EPIRB should be activated, which not only gave an accurate position (and cost $400 to do so) but alerted the EPIRB company, the police in Warburton, a nearby aircraft and the Perth Police, who all were able to monitor if not respond to the situation.
The hours passed, more hollering, more tooting, more drone flying. Just after 5 o’clock who should stumble out of the bush, brandishing his metal detector and nothing else? Damo. Thankfully. Walked straight past Shane to the Troopie, he grabbed a 2-litre bottle of orange juice and damn near sculled the lot. Damo had been out of camp for nearly 10 hours, and while engrossed in his fervent pursuit of shiny metal early in the morning, had indeed lost his bearings and gone wandering. The police were contacted, predicament resolved.
The plane had only just taken off and was turned around pronto, police from Warburton headed back to base, and Shane drove Damo the three hours to Warburton for formal identification to remove him from the missing persons listing. Interestingly, Shane’s vocal cords and pneumatic horn weren’t enough, but Damo spotted the drone and could work out where it started and finished its flights and was thus able to make his way back eventually. If it wasn’t for the incessant buzzing of the drone like a swarm of angry bees, Damo wouldn’t have found his way back.
It was a simple situation that ended up okay but could have been far worse. Even the most experienced travellers (this was Shane’s 45th desert crossing) get complacent. It’s a good idea to pack yourself a little ‘grab’ bag with a UHF radio, torch, signal mirror, whistle, matches, compass, water bottle and some snacks for every time you leave camp.