SMS saves tourist lost in desert
Advertiser 29 May 2003  

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THE text message was short and urgent: "Lost in desert, car a wreck . . . emergency."

Patricia Gerondis, lost and stranded in the harsh West Australian outback for three days, had sent a cry for help from her mobile phone to her brother Michael in Sydney.

Michael, a police officer, was in court on Monday morning when he received the SMS SOS from his sister.

Patricia was alone, dehydrated, scratched, bruised and terrified she would die.

She had not told anyone of her travel plans into a rocky, unforgiving terrain so devoid of water that not even kangaroos ventured there. The sharp ground had shredded all the tyres on her 4WD.

Worst of all, despite repeated efforts to reach the outside world, she could get no reception on her mobile.

Until she reached her brother.

He then helped save her life, co-ordinating police and emergency services searchers. Patricia had sent the message: "Please call Karratha (WA) police and ask what they can do.

"Saw sheep and road dust I think have my back to sun, it was on left.

"Emergency," it read.

Patricia, speaking from hospital late yesterday, praised the rescue efforts and said her brother had acted as her "lifeline" throughout her ordeal.

"I thank him for the fact that, thank God, I could get through to him.

"That he's the sensible one who could liaise between the two (search authorities) and let me know what was happening," she said.

Ms Gerondis was planning a trip from Coral Bay to Cape Range National Park on Friday as part of a final tour of WA before returning home to Bondi, where her parents live.

She had spent a year as a midwife in the mining town of Newman. After she left Coral Bay about 11am on Coast Rd, she stopped for directions, which turned out to be wrong.

The track ended and turned into rocky terrain. Low on petrol and panicking, she missed her destination.

By then, the sun was setting and all the tyres on her 4WD were punctured. All around her, as far as the eye could see, were only scrub hills.

She set up her tent and, in between trying unsuccessfully to dial 000 and send text messages to people she knew, lit a fire and rationed her water.

"I had food with me and plenty of water but because nobody knew I was lost I didn't know how long it would last me," she said.

On Monday morning, she climbed a hill to see whether she could dial 000 from there. It finally worked and she reached a local police station. She then went down and sat on the roof of her 4WD, where she discovered she could send an SMS message. She then sent one to her brother who contacted the officer at Exmouth police station who then co-ordinated a search.