Here, Charlie, 19, tells the story in his own words.
C￼ruising along the track, having a laugh with my best mate Beau, it was how all our good camping weekends started.
Due for some blistering 40-degree days, it was Friday lunchtime. We were heading to a secluded fishing spot in Dampier Peninsula, WA, where we’d been plenty of times before. As we larked about, I had no idea this trip was going to take a very sinister turn. ‘The tide is too far in,’ Beau, 37, realised as we got to the track that we usually took. ‘We’ll have to go around.’
As we turned, the back right side of his four-wheel drive started sinking into the mud. It was hardly unusual. We’d got bogged countless times on our trips in the Dampier Peninsula. Hopping out with shovels and tracks to free the car, I was optimistic we’d be free any moment. ‘You got this?’ I shouted to Beau as I dug and the car continued to stick. Shaking his head, he was madly digging, too, but the car wasn’t budging.
Over the next few hours, we tried everything, but it started to get dark. ‘We’ll have to bunk down here and try again tomorrow,’ Beau shrugged. Exhausted, we grabbed our swags from the back and, along with Beau’s Blue American Staffy, Mindee, settled down for what we thought would be just a night.
Around 10pm, Beau shook me awake. ‘The tide’s coming in, mate,’ he said. Mindee was barking and jumping about in the rising water as we grabbed our stuff and scrambled into the back of the car. This isn’t good, I quickly realised as the to continued to rise. I knew the water wouldn’t be deep enough to sweep the car away, but as it crept higher, it would damage the electrics. Even if we got the vehicle out of the mud, it wouldn’t drive.
‘We’re going to have to wait it out all weekend,’ Beau said, reading my mind. My dad, Ed, would alert the authorities on Sunday night – two days from now – when we didn’t arrive back home. It was going to be a pretty miserable weekend but, 100 kilometres from the nearest town, we didn’t have much choice.
As Mindee continued to bark I saw we also had another problem. ‘There’s a croc!’ I said, pointing at the submerged head just metres away. Watching the three-metre creature circling around us was pretty unnerving. We knew the area was teeming with crocs, waiting to ambush their prey. It didn’t usually bother me, but I didn’t like the idea that this one was thinking about snapping up Beau, Mindee and me.By midnight, the water was lapping the windows on the car, but thankfully that’s as high as it got and, as the tide started going out, we grabbed some sleep.
We spent the next day in the back of the car. As suspected, it wouldn’t start and our phones and radio weren’t working either. ‘It’ll only be a couple of days,’ we kept reassuring each other. That night, we ate most of our food as the 43 degree sun meant things were going off fast. We knew we needed to ration our 48 bottles of water but, in our heads, this was all going to be over very soon. ‘Only two more nights,’ I told Beau as we climbed on top of the car to camp that night to avoid the crocs.
The next day passed in the blistering heat as we survived on lollies and chips, our stress levels rising. We recorded videos of ourselves as a bit of fun, but also to say goodbye should the worst happen. Then it was another night on the roof. Surely help would come tomorrow?
But on Monday, when still there was no sign of rescue, my mood nosedived.I started facing the prospect we could die out here. I thought of my mum, dad and two brothers. I was only a teenager and there was still so much I wanted to do with my life.‘We’ll be right,’ Beau managed, but I knew he was in his own dark place. That night on the roof was awful. I was blisteringly sunburnt and terrified. What was going to happen to us?
But the next morning, after four days and nights in the elements, we rallied.Setting our gear out in an SOS formation to be seen from the air, we were thinking about lighting fires when we noticed a plane.‘Get the mirror,’ Beau yelled as we angled it to shine towards the aircraft. ‘It’s seen us,’ I shouted minutes later as it started circling above us. Within the next hour the cavalry had arrived – two police cars followed by Dad.
As I climbed into the police four-wheel drive to get to Dad I couldn’t stop crying.‘You alright?’ he asked when we made it to him, but I was too overwhelmed to answer. Beau was too. After checks in hospital we were given the all-clear.
It’s been 10 weeks since our ordeal and I’m back at work, but it’s going to take some time before I’m ready to think about another camping trip. I’m having nightmares and can’t stop reliving the fear of being stuck out there forever. I won’t be taking my chances in the bush again for quite a while.
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