‘We didn’t talk about dying, we had to live’
Covered in sores from mosquito bites, mates Charlie Williams and Beau Bryce-Maurice yesterday finally got the one thing they had so desperately wanted while stranded on the roof of their car — a nice cold beer.
After five days stuck with their bogged vehicle on Dampier Peninsula’s tidal plains, the pair were eager to celebrate and to thank those who saved their lives.
Relieved but shaken, they spent yesterday handing out cartons of beer to their rescuers as a gesture of appreciation.
Mr Williams’ father Ed was among the worthy recipients. He spent more than 24 hours searching for his son.
Charlie Williams, 19, revealed just how close the pair had come to death. “We probably would have only had one or two days left,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to die this young, I wanted to keep living’.”
The mates kept up each other’s spirits during the four- night ordeal, cracking jokes and reassuring one another to “stick by the car”.
“Our number one rule was stay with the car, (then) seek shelter, water, and food was number four. We did the best we could with what we had,” Mr Bryce-Maurice, 37, said.
“We could have done stuff differently. Things slip your mind, they can come back and bite you and they did this time.”
Mr Bryce-Maurice broke his hand two days into their ordeal when he tried to get the spare tyre out so they could burn it as a smoke signal.
“We had the wrong tools and I had a bit of a hissy fit, slipped in the mud and did a half-pirouette while falling, hit the car and broke my hand, crushed my knuckle,” he said.
The Broome father of two said the thought of seeing his children again kept him going and talking about dying was not an option.
“It was always there (that we might not live), but we couldn’t talk about it because we had to stay positive. Every day we came up with a plan to survive until the next day,” he said.
The duo survived on minimal food and water and did not eat anything in the two to three days before they were rescued.
They fed their dog Mindee dog biscuits and esky water and protected her from predators.
They got very little sleep, were circled by crocodiles and encountered snakes.
Mr Williams said he felt traumatised by the experience and it would take some time before he considered camping in the remote location again.
About 100km north of Broome, near Hidden Creek, mobile phone reception was scarce.
“We both had SOS service on our phones but we couldn’t get through,” Mr Williams said.
“We left it calling (triple-0) for two days, then our phones died.”
They wrote SOS with snatch straps in the mud and used a rear-view mirror to try to catch the attention of aircraft. Every few hours the pair would light a fire using a heat element from the car battery and use mangroves to create smoke in the hope it would be seen.
An oil and gas worker returning to Broome on a helicopter from the offshore Browse Basin was the first person to notice a flashing distress light near the stricken vehicle on Tuesday afternoon.
The Ichthys LNG project worker was a passenger on an Inpex-chartered helicopter, whose pilot had been asked to keep a lookout for the men on their return to town.
The helicopter circled the area to confirm the sighting and police were contacted.
Ed Williams had been searching since Monday night and raised the alarm with police on Tuesday morning.
Ed Williams, Adam Power, Dave Chisholm and Todd Klompmaker were part of the search party.
Mr Power described the men as being “in a bad way” when he found them. “You know it’s bad when you’ve got two men crying their eyes out,” he said, “Emotionally, they were devastated. Being in the elements all day certainly took its toll on them.”
Ed Williams was overcome with relief to be reunited with his son.
Looking back, the men said they wished they had taken an EPIRB, flares, more food and water. Mr Bryce-Maurice said they wanted their experience to be a lesson to anyone thinking of venturing to the bush.
“We want what happened to be a positive to other people, for tourists to just think it can happen to anyone,” he said.
“Just step back and take another five minutes, because it’s a lesson we learnt the hard way.”
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