I stood at Nick’s desk there was a large paper map spread out which took up nearly his whole desk. He was showing me where the call for help had come from. He was concentrating on the area between the Purnululu National Park and Ord River Regeneration Reserve. There is a number of rivers in that area all of which vary in depth depending on the time of year, how good the wet season is/was or if there had been any storms up stream.
“The details of their exact location are a little bit sketchy.” Nick said, “the Satt phone dropped out while I was writing down the GPS co-ordinates, when the phone came back the battery was dying and we didn’t get back to the co-ordinates.”
“So what do we know?” I asked.
“We know they are somewhere in the vicinity of here,” he pointed to the junction where the Panton River and Turner River met. “We know they have been in the area for a day or so and they’ve been doing river crossings which is why they were confident they could do what they did this morning.”
“Again sketchy but it appears they were wading through the river and a surge picked up their four wheel drive and shifted it about twenty metres where their wheels couldn’t get traction. They’ve secured it with their winch but for some reason they can’t which themselves out.” Nick paused for a few moments before continuing. “The problem is we don’t know exactly which river they were wading in. Going by the part co-ordinates we got the best we can do is put them in this area.”
As Nick circled a 30 kilometre area around the junction of the Panton River and Turner River I studied the circled terrain. Depending on the depth of the rivers, and there had been some rains up stream, there was multiple places they could have attempted a river crossing.
“I hope they’ve at least got a radio.”
“Unless it’s a hand held it might not be much good since their access to the vehicle is limited.”
“Shit, doesn’t anyone want to make things easy for me!” I joked. In reality not having radio contact was the least of my worries. I knew their approximate location I’d find them, a working radio would only make it quicker.
“If things were easy you’d just find a way to make it hard!” Nick joked.
“Guess I really have been hanging around you for too long.”
“Well instead of hanging around with my bad influence why don’t you get out of town and rescue a few people?”
“Because some small town cop can’t live without me and loves to keep tabs on me I need to fill out a heap of paper work before I leave town.” I retorted.
“I’ll fill it out for you. Go on, get out of here girl!”
“Thanks Nick, you are a true gentleman.”
As I turned and walked out of Nick’s office I heard him call out for me to be careful, I waved and kept walking.
Sitting in the cabin of the Beast I pulled out my laptop, it was nearly useless for communications in this part of the world but it held some of the best topographical maps of this country anyone ever had. Getting them had cost me a small fortune but they were worth it and had saved me a heap of time over the last 18 months since I got them.
I keyed in the Panton River and Turner River junction and was able to pull up a reasonable area on the screen. I didn’t need directions to get me into the area it was only about 100 kilometres away and I’d probably do half of that distance on the bitumen. So why did Nick tell me I should pack an overnight bag? Because the last 50 kilometres would take me up to three hours to navigate, it could be more depending on how the dirt tracks have faired since the last time I was in the area which had to be two years ago.
Nick knew what I was headed for and knew that because I wasn’t leaving Halls Creek until well after lunch it could easily be 4pm before I found the stranded vehicle and it’s occupants. Even with a perfect rescue where nothing went wrong I’d still be headed towards sun down and reluctant to make the trip home. If the rescue wasn’t going to be perfect I may have to wait until the following morning to even attempt to get the car out of the water.
The Beast roared into life as I turned the key and two second later I was pulling out of the police station car park and headed north east out of Halls Creek. My plan was to head up the Great Northern Highway until I crossed the Little Panton River, then not far after that I would take a track heading off to the right. That track would eventually lead me to the Panton River which I’d follow closely on a number of different tracks until I reached the junction of Turner River. If I hadn’t found the stranded four wheel drive or it’s occupants before I made the junction I’d take the closest river crossing and head back down the Turner River until I did find them.
I know it’s not a comical thing but I still have to laugh. I travel countless kilometres on dirt tracks, competing with wildlife and worst of all competing with mother nature yet some of the most dangerous kilometres I have done have been on bitumen. And it happened again headed to Little Panton River and outlier of the Panton River.
There I was minding my own business and singing along at the top of my voice, don’t knock me until you’ve heard my dulcet tones, to Rascal Flats, because the lead singer is kind of cute. I was motoring along at about 85 kilometres per hour in the left hand lane and as I came over a crest one of those tourist camper vans you can rent from the major cities was also in the left lane but travelling towards me. Had I been going faster, had there been other traffic on the road and had the driver of the camper not woken up in time things could have been a lot different, but yet again the bitumen proved more dangerous than even a bloody venomous snake.
Once I was on the dirt I felt much safer, sure I found a few kangaroos, a flock of birds and I even had to get out of the Beast once to remove a tree from the track so I could get through, but I never once felt unsafe like I did when I saw that camper van on the wrong side of the road coming towards me.
I wasn’t far short of my estimation and it appeared luck was on my side because at three minutes to four o’clock while I was still making my way towards the Ponton and Turner River junction I noticed smoke rising into the sky. It appeared the stranded party were not only on Ponton River, meaning I wouldn’t have to cross the river and head south along Turner River but it meant finding them was all but done.
Thirty minutes later I was parked at the edge of the Ponton River looking at the stranded four wheel drive sitting in water, water which was lapping the bottom door seals. The vehicle was held in place by a huge rock wedged under the slider on the passenger side and by the winch which was hooked to a large tree on the bank not far from where I sat. On the river bank opposite there was a tent with two men waving at me.
Previous Desert story here.