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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

British backpacker lost in outback Queensland

An 18 year old British backpacker, Sam Woodhead, had a near death experience recently in the Queensland outback.  He'd been working for a few weeks at the Upshot cattle station, 90 miles from Longreach, helping the owners who were struggling with a severe drought.

On his first day off, he decided to go for an Army-style run carrying a heavy backpack.  His ambition is to become an Army officer at Sandhurst in 2014 and he loaded his rucksack with 33 lbs of clothing for weight. But he only took a 1 litre bottle of water.

I was hot, about 40C, so he set off in the late afternoon, around 4pm, but before he knew it, he'd lost his bearings.  Not phased, he  felt confident that he would find his way back tomorrow, so he curled up and went to sleep.

By now, a massive search and rescue operation was under way, funded partly by his family, and planes and helicopters started to fly overhead, but although he could hear them, they couldn't see him because of the trees.  He tried to find water but he knew there wasn't any, he could see where the streams had been but now there was no water, just dry, cracked dirt.

Sam's father had put 120 saches of saline solution for contact lenses in his rucksack.  His water was gone and he wondered if he dare drink it. He knew it contained a high concentration of salt but on the packet it said that the solution contained 69 per cent water so he tried one to see if it had any affect, and when it didn't, he drank the lot.  The total amount was only around 200 ml, a can of Coke, but it was enough to revive him.  But then he came across his own footprints, and realized he'd been walking around in circles.

After an entire day without water, he started to hallucinate about dingoes - he could hear them all around him in the dark.  There had been dingo attacks at the homestead where he worked, and he knew what damage they could do.

On the third day he had to resort to drinking his own urine.  He collected it in the empty water bottle but after a few attempts, decided he couldn't do it, and threw it away.

Towards the end, he woke up with flies in his mouth, he could no longer keep it closed.  On Friday morning he could barely crawl and just lay in the shade of a tree.  After three grueling days, he was rescued, only 5 kilometres from the homestead.

He made a huge SOS out of his clothing in a clearing but the search planes and helicopters didn't see it. It was only when a helicopter came down so low that the rotors caused some of the clothing to blow up into the air which caught the pilot's attention, and they swung back for another look.

When the British newspaper The Daily Mail heard about his ordeal, they tied him up for a lucrative exclusive, and he intends to donate all the proceeds from the story back to the organizations who helped find him.