Message in sand leads to incredible rescue of lost Aussie man

The traveller stopped to look at the Eyre Bird Observatory but took a wrong turn on foot and lost his way.

Police and rescue teams located a missing 75-year-old man after spotting a message in the sand he'd written hours after becoming lost in a remote part of Western Australia.

The lone traveller was heading from Perth to Tasmania to visit family when he pulled into the Eyre Bird Observatory on Sunday, but he lost his way while exploring the vast Nullarbor Plain, WA Police said.

The observatory is located about 35km south of the Eyre Highway about 300km west of the South Australian border and is described online as "one of the least populated places on the planet". Police from Eucla, some three-hour drive away, said the man had stopped to look around the homestead and museum.

Message written in sand.
The lost traveller left messages in the sand to help rescuers locate him. Source: Supplied/WA Police

Nick, a volunteer caretaker at the observatory said the traveller left at around 2pm, but he became concerned when he spotted his car still parked there three hours later. The caretaker contacted police who made the three-hour journey from the town Ecula, with Sergeant Dale Grice concluding the situation was "reasonably high risk".

"We've made an assessment of the general situation: the weather, the time that he'd been gone, the terrain in the area," he told ABC News.

Google map and dirt road leading to Eyre Bird Observatory.
Eyre Bird Observatory is about 35km south of the Eyre Highway down a sandy track and about 300km west of the South Australian border. Source: Google

Man spends night in remote area

A search ensued for the missing man with State Emergency Services from surrounding areas, including Norseman, Kalgoorlie and Esperance, travelling to help. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority jet was sent from the east coast to search for the man using heat sensing technology — FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) — which worked in tracking down a makeshift camp where he'd spent the night.

During the search, police discovered a note written on the ground which said the time and had an arrow showing the direction the man was walking. Eventually, they caught up with him at around 6.20am on Monday morning.

Police said the man's outdoor capabilities were evident. "He's set up a mattress using [bushes and shrubs] and then he's made himself a bit of a blanket out of them to cover himself," Sergeant Grice said. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, it was 1.9 degree Celsius at Eyre at 6am on Monday.

Arrow in sand near makeshift camp under tree made using branches and shrubs.
The man drew an arrow in the direction he was walking and made a makeshift camp using branches and shrubs. Source: Supplied/WA Police

"He was an experienced bushman. He was an ex-farmer and he also used to work for the Parks Department in Tasmania," Sergeant Grice added. "So he was well experienced in bushcraft."

Police said the man "became disoriented" after visiting the beach near the observatory and took the wrong path back to his car. Sergeant Grice said it's a "pretty remote" area adding, "it's pretty easy to do".

Thankfully, the 75-year-old was "very fit and able" and in good condition, police said. He declined an offer to go to the hospital and instead continued his travels.

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