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Rescuer says missing woman Kelsey Bell wouldn't have survived long in remote bush

A hot chook, a mystery pair of shoes and a huge amount of luck. These were the ingredients that led to missing woman Kelsey Bell being discovered after four days lost in one of the hottest and most rugged parts of Australia.

Nyaliga Ranger Arnold Sahanna described the rollercoaster of emotions he felt when he chanced upon the dehydrated and delirious 62-year-old on a remote bush track.

"I saw her shoes first, and my blood ran cold," he says.

"I thought, 'I just hope she's still alive'.

"So I was shocked and so relieved when I found her sitting under a tree with her dog – I reckon one or two more days and she would have died."

Abandoned vehicle sparks urgent search

Ms Bell's car broke down on the remote Gibb River Road four-wheel drive track in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia on Sunday.

She was on a 4,000-kilometre road trip from southern WA through to Darwin. When she reached the Kimberley Ms Bell decided to take the off-road option.

The alarm was raised when her abandoned vehicle was spotted by a local mustering crew, who reported it to WA Police on Tuesday.

At first, it was hoped she'd hitched a ride with the handful of locals who still used the road.

In the northern dry season, the road is dense with tourist traffic, but it empties out in the scorching hot summer months.

After finding no evidence of banking activity or accommodation bookings in the days since Ms Bell's car was found, WA Police concluded she was still out bush.

It was a grim prospect. During the day, temperatures were hitting close to 40 degrees Celsius and there was no indication of which direction she had set off in.

Shock discovery

It turned out Ms Bell had headed south on foot, moving down the 50-kilometre Kuranjie track.

It is notoriously rocky and isolated and accessed only by the Nyaliga ranger group, which does fire management and other landcare activities in the area.

By pure coincidence, head ranger Arnold Sahanna needed to drive down the track on Thursday to drop off some fuel and check for bushfire damage.

It was a decision that potentially saved Ms Bell's life.

By the time Mr Sahanna found her, Ms Bell had walked more than 20km — largely bare-footed — and was in a very poor state.

"When I found her she was delusional and very thirsty and hungry," he said.

"So I gave her some chicken and coleslaw in a bun, and she drank a huge amount of water.

"There was a big stick next to her like she'd been trying to dig for water."

Mr Sahanna said it took an hour and a half to help Ms Bell into his car and coax her large, traumatised dog to join her.

"She had no energy, and I was worried she was going to fall over," he said.

"She said, 'Thank God you came'.

"And I said, 'Thank God I found you — everyone's looking for you!'"

Mr Sahanna says the incident shows the value of having local people employed as rangers in the area.

"Without the ranger program, I wouldn't have any reason to be out there and I don't think anyone would have found her then," he said.

"I'm just so relieved.

"When I drove her back to the police she asked me for a hug and I said, 'Yeah OK, no worries.'"

'We're very grateful'

Ms Bell was transferred to Kununurra Hospital for medical checks and was released without injury or serious ill health.

Senior Sergeant Gary Thwaites helped coordinate the search and said Ms Bell was incredibly lucky to be alive.

"We're very grateful to the rangers and the fantastic job that they did and continue to do," he said.

"Everyone is so relieved that we got a positive outcome in relation to finding her alive — albeit very hungry and thirsty.

"Given the weather, the outcome could have been far worse."

Why do people leave their cars?

Each year, hundreds of land searches are conducted across Australia. In most cases, people are found alive.

Police report that the most common type of search is for people with dementia who wander off in metropolitan areas.

However, in remote Australia, the circumstances are more varied.

Searches are for a mix of prospectors, hikers, hunters, and people whose cars breakdown in remote locations.

Senior Sergeant Thwaites said it was unfortunate when people leave their vehicles at this critical moment.

"I'd suggest it is sometimes a lack of awareness about what is best, and not best, to do," he said.

"When it's an isolated area, people may panic and the commonsense option goes out the window."

Senior Sergeant Thwaites says it is vital people prepare properly when travelling in remote areas.

This includes checking weather forecasts, carrying provisions including bulk water and investing in emergency equipment like personal locator beacons and satellite phones.

How to survive in the outback

Survival experts say there are medical and psychological factors that contribute to people making poor decisions when stranded in the bush.

Bob Cooper has been running bush survival courses for more than 30 years.

He says people often go into a state of panic that is difficult to overcome or control.

"When people realise they're stuck and they're alone, they start making decisions based on emotion, not rationality," he said.

"So they make decisions that don't seem to make sense.

"They are in a state of fear, and often they start to suffer from dehydration, which impairs their judgement."

Mr Cooper suggests people prepare themselves adequately before going on outback journeys by undertaking training that will equip them to respond to emergency situations.

He said staying hydrated was crucial.

"The key is to drink the water properly, don't just sip it, because often that won't be enough to keep you in a good state," Mr Cooper said.

"Another thing to remember is not to rely on anything with a battery that can go flat, or a computer that can malfunction – you need basic but reliable stuff like a compass."

Most importantly, stay with your car – even if your instinct is to rush for help.

The discovery of Ms Bell comes as authorities search for two other people in remote northern Australia.

Pilbara man Clinton Lockyer was last seen in the town of Wickham on October 31.

In the Kimberley, aerial and land searches are underway for Fitzroy Crossing local Wylie Oscar, whose car was found in bush north of the town mid-week.