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“Esther, this is the SES, can you hear me?”

December 1, 2022

Esther Wallace, and an Orange SES vehicle. Supplied.

By Peter Holmes

SES crew from Bathurst joined Orange SES on Thursday morning in the search for missing bushwalker Esther Wallace.

About 8am yesterday (Wednesday November 30, 2022), emergency services responded to reports that a woman had become separated from a companion while bushwalking at Federal Falls through the Mount Canobolas State Recreation Area, approximately 20km southwest of Orange.

Officers from Central West Police District supported by the Police Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit, PolAir, Chifley Rural Crime Investigators as well as the State Emergency Services, Cabonne Council, NSW Parks and Wildlife Service and Forestry NSW commenced a large-scale search of the area.

The search continued through the night and into Thursday morning.

The SES stood down at about 8pm on Wednesday before resuming this morning.

Paul Beard from SES Orange was one of about 30 police and SES involved in the search yesterday.

“We covered a fair bit of ground with PolAir, ATVs [all terrain vehicles] and multiple SES and police vehicles,” Beard told The Orange News Examiner at about 10am Thursday.

“Yesterday we covered the majority of Federal Falls and Glenwood area. No sign as yet.”

He said PolAir’s thermal imaging had been of little use during the day “because all the rocks heat up”. He was unsure if PolAir had been able to secure resources to continue through the night once the rocks had cooled, thus making it easier to locate heat generated by a person.

Asked if the search crew at night tried to remain silent, or make as much noise as possible, he said: “Both. If we’re searching for someone we believe to be coherent, we’ll stop every now and again and do a call out, usually from as high as possible because then it echoes more.

“We’ll do a call saying, ‘Esther this is the SES, can you hear me?’. Then we’ll stop for a minute to see if there is a response, and then we’ll continue walking on.”

Rob Stevens from Orange SES said it was not unusual for such a wide array of emergency services and agencies involved in such a search.

“With any type of incident like that it's easier to just land bulk resources early and scale it back as required, than start it small and try to scale it up when you find out it’s beyond your scope.

“So it’s very much a standard procedure of putting bulk resources in first. It's in everybody’s interest to find the person as soon as possible.”

Generally coordination for such a search will be overseen by someone from NSW Police.

Asked whether searchers would use torches, portable flood lighting or rely on moonlight, Stevens said: “A lot of the time at night - and this is general, not specific - torches are generally fine.

“Anything greater than that and you can actually take away the night vision for the rescuer. In some circumstances you can search at night without a torch - your eyes adjust and if it’s a moonlit night you can see a long way, and see things moving.

“With land searches it all comes down to the type of search - do you have contact with the person? Do they know their approximate whereabouts? Do they know where they went in? There are a whole raft of variables that go into deciding what type of search, whether it be on foot or in a vehicle, whether it continues into the night. It all gets weighed up.”

Orange Police were not able to comment on Thursday morning as the duty officer was in the field on the search.

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