Police searching Outback for missing woman find body

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Police found a body on Wednesday they suspect is the only casualty among three people who became stranded in the arid central Australian Outback almost two weeks ago.

Police have yet to formally confirm that the remains found south of the town of Alice Springs are Claire Hockridge, 46. Police have not revealed details of the circumstances of the death, which will be investigated by a coroner, a police statement said.

Hockeridge, her partner Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, and their companion Phu Tran, 40, were in a SUV that became bogged in a dry riverbed during an afternoon sightseeing drive on Nov. 19.

McBeath-Riley, who had been driving and became lost, decided on Thursday to stay at a salty waterhole with the couple’s Staffordshire terrier while her companions attempted to trek toward a highway, carrying water and planning to walk at night to avoid the desert heat, which came close to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in recent days.

By that stage they had spent nine nights in the open with biscuits, instant noodles, bottled water and cans of pre-mixed vodka to sustain them.

McBeath-Riley and the dog were rescued by a search helicopter on Sunday after a cattle rancher alerted police to suspicious tire tracks, which lead searchers to the abandoned pickup truck.

Tran was found by cattle rancher Ted Fogarty on Tuesday. Tran and McBeath-Riley were both treated at an Alice Springs hospital for dehydration and exposure.

Fogarty said he found Tran at a water tank on his property where Tran had been drinking and cooling since Monday. Tran had last seen Hockeridge two days earlier following a fence line, Fogarty said.

“He said he was coming with me,” Fogarty told The Australian newspaper. “He was pretty happy to see me.”

The women were living in Alice Springs and had been showing local landmarks to Tran, who was visiting Alice Springs from the south coast city of Adelaide.