SYDNEY, Australia – The three Australians told family and friends that they were taking a quick trip to the interior of central Australia. But when his truck got stuck in a riverbed, they suddenly found themselves in a battle for survival, stranded in a remote landscape with little food and water.
On Sunday, 12 days later, police said they had found one of the three people alive and a dog near a water hole one mile from the abandoned truck. The unusual tire tracks detected by a cattle station worker, as well as a note left inside the vehicle, provided a breakthrough for search engines.
The rescued woman, Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, survived in the heat of more than 100 degrees by boiling and drinking groundwater, police said. She was flown to a service station about 55 miles from Alice Springs, where paramedics found her breaking the fast with beer, cola and fries, said Andrew Everingham, regional manager of St. John Ambulance.
She was treated for dehydration and exposure and released from a hospital on Monday.
"It really is an incredible survival story," Everingham said. Although Ms. McBeath-Riley had experienced some vomiting and gastrointestinal problems, she added, she was "in a very good mood and physically quite well."
Searchers in two helicopters continue to search for the other two people, Claire Hockridge, 46, and Phu Tran, 40, who separated from Mrs. McBeath-Riley about a week ago to seek help. The two had some water with them when they separated, although there is a "significant concern,quot; for their well-being, Everingham said.
When the truck got stuck in the riverbed, the three stayed with the vehicle for a couple of days. But then they decided to leave for the Finke River and left a note inside the truck detailing their plans.
For about a week, the group remained near the water, boiling it or sifting it with a shirt to survive, Superintendent Pauline Vicary of the Northern Territory Police told reporters in Alice Springs on Monday. The three had only brought a packet of biscuits and noodles with meat for supplies.
It was reported that they disappeared four days after they could not return from their trip. But worried that no one was looking for them, Mrs. Hockridge and Mr. Tran decided to venture north with a satellite navigation device and a compass. They expected to find the Stuart Highway, about 22 miles away.
Central Australia is known for its remoteness, a place where telephone reception is rare and the next city can be hours away by car. It is also dry and hot, with temperatures that rise to more than 110 degrees on some summer days and fall rapidly at night.
"Historically we have seen several people fight and require rescue, and we have seen some bad results," Everingham said.
Police said the terrain in the search area included sandy dunes, hard clay, dense trees and rocks.
"It is quite diverse and challenging terrain," said Superintendent Vicary.