Saturday 24 February 2018

Dad bushwhacks backpack son who survived 12 days lost in unforgiving Outback

British backpacker Jamie Neale, right, is embraced by his father Richard at a hospital in Katoomba, west of Sydney
British backpacker Jamie Neale, right, is embraced by his father Richard at a hospital in Katoomba, west of Sydney

Bonnie Malkin in Katoomba

HE had survived for 12 days lost in the Australian bush, eating berries and weeds and sleeping under a log in an attempt to stay warm and dry.

But when Jamie Neale was rescued from the unforgiving terrain of the Blue Mountains, the British backpacker had one more ordeal to endure: his father was waiting to give him a severe dressing-down for getting lost in the first place. Richard Cass, who had flown to the mountains outside Sydney from London to help search for his son, was elated to hear the 19-year-old had been found, but that happiness was coloured with exasperation.

"He must be the only teenager in the world who would go for a 10-mile hike without his mobile phone," he said. "When I hear about all the mistakes he made, like not signing the [hostel] register and not taking an emergency beacon, I can't say I'll kill him, that would defeat the purpose, but I will kick his a..."

Mr Neale, who was recovering last night from dehydration and exposure, in the Blue Mountains Hospital in Katoomba, said the first thing his father did when the pair were reunited was "have a go at me".

Mr Cass was unrepentant. "I did have a go at him, he had tears in his eyes. I told him [the story] could make a training film about how to get lost in the bush. Don't take your mobile phone, wear dark clothing, don't sign the bush register, and if you've got an emergency blanket, leave it behind in Perth."

Less than 24 hours earlier Mr Neale's situation had been desperate. Lost in the wilderness, confused and disoriented, he believed he would die. Many of those searching for him, including Mr Cass, had given up hope of finding him alive.

But at 11.30am local time yesterday, the gap-year student was spotted by two bushwalkers at remote Medlow Gap, about 10 miles from Katoomba.

They walked him out of the valley, called police, and delivered him to firemen who took him to hospital.

There, he was reunited with his father, who had been about to board a plane back to London when a text message from police arrived with the good news.

Two days earlier, Mr Cass had travelled to the last place his son had been sighted to carve a gravestone of sorts into the rocks and to say a quiet farewell. He walked out to the Ruined Castle rock formation, and carved Jamie's name, date of birth and the date he went missing, along with the words: "My boy". Now, that gravestone stands testament to Mr Neale's remarkable survival skills as hundreds of search and rescue workers scoured the dense bushland of the Blue Mountains National Park for 12 days.


In an extraordinary example of survival, he managed to fend off starvation and hypothermia by living off berries, seeds and "a weed that looked like rocket".

He spent some nights sleeping under logs and others "just huddled in his jacket" as he tried to find a way out of the wilderness by following rivers and scaling escarpments.

Speaking from his hospital bed, he said: "I really thought I was going to die. I could see the helicopters flying overhead but they couldn't see me."

On July 3, Mr Neale, of Muswell Hill, north London, set off for a bush walk in the vast and rugged Jamieson Valley without telling anyone where he was going and without taking the proper equipment. He had with him only a small amount of water and two bread rolls.

These errors meant that when he was reported missing, police likened the challenge of finding him to searching for a needle in a haystack.

Hundreds of rescue workers and volunteers combed approximately 60 square miles of dense bushland. One broke an arm, another had to be rescued himself. Questions remain over exactly how Mr Neale kept himself alive in the unforgiving bush for so long. Mr Cass denied the astonishing story was a hoax.

He attributed his son's remarkable survival to his fitness, youth and tolerance of the cold. The temperature on winter nights in the Blue Mountains can fall below zero.

"I have always said he's a tough kid and the cold wouldn't beat him," said Mr Cass.

"He could walk to the South Pole in his underpants, so as long as he hadn't fallen off a cliff and dashed his head out on some rocks, I thought he would be OK." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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