Hopelessly lost, hungry and thirsty, Michelle Pittman thought she was going to die in the bush with her young son.
What began as an enjoyable drive to scope out Mount Royal National Park in the Hunter region of NSW on the October long weekend, turned into a desperate battle for survival.
Michelle, 40, had time off work, so she had taken her nine-year-old boy Dylan for a walk in the great outdoors. The boy had been bullied about his weight and the concerned mum was doing her best to help take his mind off things.
Spotting a camp site, she parked her black 4WD and they wandered off to investigate the area further. A small trail led them over a creek to a fork in the path and up a hill.
But they had made a potentially deadly mistake.
As night began to fall, an awful realisation dawned. They were lost - with no food or water, and a failing mobile phone. But their nightmare was just beginning. The ordeal would last a staggering 10 days as they walked deeper and deeper in to the bush, trying to find a way out.
Nobody in the outside world knew where they had gone. They prayed their parked car would eventually give searchers a clue to chase. Throughout it all, Michelle clung to the hope they would survive.
'We had this beautiful orange and black butterfly with us all the time,' the single mum tells New Idea. 'It was always on Dylan's side. I don't know...I looked at it like it was a sign we were going the right way and that we would be OK.'
There was no fresh water to be found, and on day four, Dylan suggested they drink their own urine to stay alive - like his hero Bear Grylls.
By the eighth day of their ordeal, Michelle realised her little boy couldn't last much longer. They were both delirious with thirst and hunger, imagining they could hear rescue helicopters and loud music.
'I woke up and I actually thought Dylan was gone, ' she recalls, with horror. 'He just had this really pale, purply colour. I had never seen him like that and I screamed. He woke up, but that's when I realised he didn't have long.'
'I made a promise to myself that if Dylan didn't make it out, I wouldn't either. I felt so guilty, that this was all my fault.'
On the ninth day, they found a substantial track and followed it until they reached rough, unsealed Mount Royal Road, where police searchers spotted them the following day.
'We came out and the road was there,' laughs Michelle, who was later told they were given a slim 20 per cent chance of survival at that point. 'We just stood and looked at each . other.'
Mother and son were dehydrated, starving, badly scratched and covered with insect bites - but against all odds they were alive.
The ordeal was over, but while recovering in hospital for 11 days, Michelle had another shock in store.
She discovered that the company she worked for - Gromor Enterprises - had made a decision to terminate her employment on the basis of 'shortage of work.'
'Talk about kicking you when you're down,' she says indignantly. 'I think that is the lowest thing a company could do!'
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!