Stranded Briton saved after writing SOS in sand

By James Burleigh
Saturday 13 December 2003 01:00

A British tourist, stranded on a remote Australian beach in scorching heat for nearly three days, was rescued yesterday after scrawling a huge SOS message into the sand.

Howard Holdsworth, 54, an experienced traveller, dug the life-saving message at Cape Bertholet, north of Broome in Western Australia, after his four-wheel drive got stuck in sand on Wednesday morning.

He endured heat of up to 50C (122F) and was running short of water. He even considered walking 52 miles to Broome, but spotted crocodile tracks and decided against it. Finally, a Coastwatch Islander aircraft conducting a routine patrol of the coastline spotted the sand-bogged jeep. The aircraft made a low-level pass and saw the SOS and Mr Holdsworth waving at the aircraft.

The Customs National Surveillance Centre in Canberra contacted Broome police who, together with the State Emergency Service, mounted a rescue operation.

Mr Holdsworth, who was travelling alone, said his vehicle became bogged down after he inadvertently drove beyond the nature reserve that was his intended destination. But despite the close shave, he remained upbeat. He said: "Actually, the place where I ended up getting stranded for three days was absolutely gorgeous." Mr Holdsworth, whose family owns a large transport upholstery company, had been staying with friends before setting out on his trip. He was expected back in Broome yesterday, and so his friends did not raise the alarm.

Mr Holdsworth said: "During the day I kept myself in the shade ... using as little energy as possible, and I worked through the night trying to get the vehicle out.

"I must have shifted tons of sand, absolutely tons, Jesus!"

Mr Holdsworth shuffled his feet in the wet sand to create the SOS below the high-tide line, to indicate it had been written recently. "In fact, that's what saved me, because that's exactly what the Coastwatch people noticed," he said.

Mr Holdsworth, a keen naturalist, said he had good knowledge of bush survival skills, but found the experience frightening. "I've got the knowledge but it's being able to use it, in extreme temperatures it's actually quite hard to think your way out of situations," he said.

He will return to his home in Halifax, West Yorkshire, early next year, but has promised to stick to the beaten path until then. Back at home, his mother heard all about her son's latest adventure by phone, having finally managed to contact him after days of worry.

Dina Holdsworth said: "People get lost in that remote area of Australia and are never seen again, so he was very lucky. He is only the second person ever to be rescued from that area."

Her son set off in October, flying first to Vietnam to go diving and mountain climbing, before going on to North Korea, and then to Australia.

Mrs Holdsworth knew something was amiss when she received no e-mail from him for several days. She explained: "He has kept in touch every couple of days via the internet and has written down all his adventures.

"When he was in the jungles of North Korea, he found a little village with a computer and wrote to me. I was anxious when he did not get in touch, but I have spoken to him on the phone now and he is in good spirits and intends to continue his adventure. He will go on to New Zealand and then to the USA and will not be back until March."

Mrs Holdsworth explained that his heart has always been on travelling and described him as "a free spirit" travelling extensively round the Americas, Europe and Africa.

"He is very thankful to his rescuers and I am pleased he is OK, but he is going to continue his adventure. Goodness knows what he will get up to next," she said.

Meanwhile, another unnamed British tourist died after his 4X4 got stuck in Western Australia's Great Sandy Desert near Marble Bar. He walked 37 miles in extreme heat after abandoning his car.

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