By ERWIN CHLANDA
“At 12:40pm yesterday we invited comment from Tourism Central Australia (TCA) as well as Lauren Moss, Minister for Parks and Tourism. We will publish any replies from them.”
This is how we ended a report on February 23 about the horrendous deaths of German Tourists Wilfred and Gisela Thor who perished in Central Australia, not somewhere in the remote Simpson Desert, but in one of our highly promoted national parks, Trephina Gorge (pictured), a mere hour’s drive from Alice Springs.
Today, 200 days later, we still haven’t heard a peep out of TCA, despite renewed requests for comment last week.
And Ms Moss said yesterday that “our thoughts and prayers are with Mr and Mrs Thor’s family” but she won’t comment on circumstances surrounding the deaths until the coroner has handed down his or her findings.
According to a spokesperson for Ms Moss the coroner will start investigating those circumstances in January – almost a year after the tragedy, and the investigation will likely take some weeks of not months.
Does Ms Moss suggest the coroner would condemn the rectification, in the meantime, of life threatening practices that have become apparent?
And as for the mostly taxpayer funded TCA (in 2016 grant funding was $886,818 of total revenue of $1,287,737), it clearly doesn’t think it needs to inform the public about its actions – if any – to rectify deficiencies in the industry it represents. TCA, it seems clear, is more interested in self-congratulatory dinners.
Ill prepared and and ill informed, Mr and Mrs Thor perished in near 40 degree heat.
The couple, both in their seventies, drove themselves to the Trephina Gorge park in a small hire car on Friday, February 14. The maximum temperature at the Alice Springs airport on that day was 36.3 degrees. On the next two days it rose to 37.7 and 39.1 degrees, respectively.
Our report raised a series of actions that could have averted the tragedy. With the summer around the corner we’re asking the questions again.
Senior Sergeant Michael Potts, the Alice Springs based police search specialist, says searchers “will always promote PLBs and EPIRBs on the basis that they can be activated in times of an emergency and they can provide a location of the missing person.”
Signals of these pockets size transmitters are picked up by high flying aircraft.
“Search and Rescue (SAR) time only raises the alarm. It does not locate the person,” says Senior Sergeant Potts.
“At the end of the day prior preparation is always the key and if you are ever lost, I do not encourage people to try and self-extract as this only depletes a person’s water supplies and lessens a person’s time frame for survival.
“Yes, there will be occasions where you may have to try but this is rare and you have to raise your odds by only walking at night, do things to try and capture water, and so on.”
It is known the Germans had contact with at least two people: The person who hired them the car and the person who checked them into a hotel.
And the park staff should have reacted surely much sooner to a small car without any obvious camping equipment parked over night in the Trephina Gorge carpark.
As it turned out, the car had been there two nights before the search began – the third day after their arrival in the national park.
What advice had these visitors been given by the car hire company about the potentially life-threatening conditions of being in the Central Australian bush in summer heat?
Why did the hotel not raise the alarm at the time when the two could still have been rescued?
Our report canvassed simple search and rescue systems – have they been introduced?
The taxpaying public, funding the TCA and the government in which Ms Moss is a minister, deserve answers.
By ERWIN CHLANDA