A South African man has died in the Australian desert after his bakkie got stuck in a dune and he attempted to walk to safety.
Mauritz “Mo” Pieterse had been working as a field officer for the environmental NGO Bush Heritage Australia in Queensland for just more than a year when he and a partner, Josh Hayes, set out to do routine maintenance work on a spring half-a-day’s drive from the homestead where he was based, Ethabuka Station.
The station itself is 180km from the nearest town – a village called Boulia with a population of 290 – and 1 510km north-west of Brisbane.
On Monday, Pieterse’s mission took him even further into the Simpson Desert.
But just 16km into the journey, Pieterse’s Toyota Hilux bakkie got stuck in a sand dune. When they could not free the vehicle, he and his co-worker decided to walk back.
Temperatures soared to 45°C.
After 6km, Pieterse collapsed.
When they failed to return by late afternoon, a number of workers – including Aboriginal trackers – set out into the darkness to look for them.
Close to midnight on a rough track, the headlights of a search vehicle driven by Greg Woods, from another cattle station, picked out the body of Pieterse. He had collapsed and perished from dehydration and exhaustion.
A short time later, Woods came across a highly distressed Hayes 2km from where Pieterse was found. He is recovering in hospital, where he is being treated for severe dehydration and heat exhaustion.
“When they were found, they had insufficient water supplies with them and obviously dehydration crept in very quickly,” police Inspector Paul Biggin said.
Biggin said Pieterse’s death highlighted the need for those travelling in Australia’s vast, remote areas to carry a good supply of water at all times and a means of communication.
“It would appear, under the circumstances, there have been a number of mistakes made and as I said unfortunately one young man has lost his life,” he said.
Originally from Mbombela, Pieterse moved to New Zealand at a young age before relocating to Australia.
Nature conservation was always a part of his life. Before emigrating, his father was the director of the Mpumalanga Parks Board and his mother was head of the herpetological association in Pretoria.
He specialised in weed and pest control management on nature reserves.
The family are travelling from their West Australia home to take his body home.
“We were told that his last words were ‘tell my family that I love them. I am not going to make it but you have to keep going’,” a devastated Geraldine Pieterse said, according to the Queensland Courier-Mail.
“He was the best son ever… it’s just so absolutely unbelievable.”
His sister Jani added: “Our family will never be the same again.”
The authorities are trying to get clarity on how somebody with Pieterse’s experience died.
On its website, Bush Heritage said: “The details of the events leading up to this tragic accident are unclear, and David Whitelaw, National Operations Manager, has confirmed that the men’s vehicle was fitted with a working radio, and that Mo had undergone safety training as recently as last week.”
The Star, Daily Mail, Sapa- AFP