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Police had the chance to use a tracking dog to find Esther Wallace. This is why they didn’t take it

December 12, 2022

Stock image.

By Peter Holmes

NSW Police have backed their decision not to deploy tracking dogs on the first day of the search around Federal Falls for missing bushwalker Esther Wallace, telling The Orange News Examiner “they were not appropriate at that time”.

At about 4pm on Sunday (December 11, 2022), the twelfth consecutive day of the search, a line of police and emergency services volunteers was moving slowly across the terrain when they located Wallace’s body, about 2km from where she went missing.

A source told The Orange News Examiner that she had likely succumbed around six or seven days after going missing.

A report outlining the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and death of Esther Wallace will be prepared for the consideration of the NSW coroner. The coroner’s job is to “ensure that all sudden, unexpected or unexplained deaths, suspected deaths, fires and explosions are properly investigated”.

Thousands upon thousands of man hours were dedicated to the search for Wallace, a woman in her late forties who went to Federal Falls early on the morning of Wednesday November 30 with a friend.

It has taken a significant physical and psychological toll on many of the dozens of people who scoured the unforgiving terrain for up to 12 hours a day.

Those involved in the search included Central West Police District, Police Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit, Orange SES, Bush Search and Rescue (BSAR) operators attached to the NSW State Emergency Services, PolAir, Chifley Rural Crime Investigators, police from neighbouring Districts and Western Region staff as well as the NSW RFS, Cabonne Council, NSW Parks and Wildlife Service, Westpac Rescue Helicopter, Forestry NSW and volunteers from Cadia mine.

Some had worked similarly challenging jobs before, and were able to withstand the steep inclines; the dangerous drops; the copperhead and eastern brown snakes; the wet, slippery, shifting earth; the vicious black jumping jack ants that could launch 30-50cm onto any exposed skin; the stinging nettles; the blackberry that ripped through overalls and snapped off in the skin; and the mind games.

Others could only take so much, or were cruelled by injury or illness. One worker went into anaphylactic shock after being bitten by a jumping jack ant. Bones were broken and dislocated, and ankles sprained as searchers navigated 75-degree inclines. There was at least one snake bite.

It has been speculated by people closely associated with the search that tracking dogs were not used on the first day, and that this was due to dog handlers being on leave.

The Orange News Examiner put this to NSW Police.

“In relation to the notion of tracking dogs, police dogs were considered as part of the search operation, but upon advice it was decided that they were not appropriate at that time," police said in response.

“There were a range of risks considered around using the dogs, e.g., risk of snake bite, the heavy terrain, the environment being contaminated by the searchers.

“The dog uses scent to track people but because there were several people moving through the area (searchers and members of the public) the dog would not be able to distinguish the MP [missing person].

“The MP was found by searchers and not by a specialist dog. The specialist dog was going to commence a search from Monday [December 12, 2022.]"


TRACKING DOGS — A tracking dog is trained to follow the path of a certain person. It physically tracks the path of the person, without relying on air scenting.

AIR SCENT DOGS — The air scent dog is the type most frequently encountered. This dog finds lost people by picking up traces of human scent that are drifting in the air, and looks for the “cone” of scent where it is most concentrated.

DISASTER DOGS — A disaster dog is trained to find human scent in very unnatural environments, including collapsed structures and areas affected by tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters. This dog is trained to work on unstable surfaces, in small, confined spaces and other settings not usually found in the bush.

CADAVER DOGS — The dog can be trained for above ground and buried cadaver searches. Although many dogs have the potential to detect all human scent, the cadaver dog is trained to locate only human remains.

WATER SEARCH DOGS — A water search dog is trained to detect human scent that is in or under the water, focusing on the scent of the bodily gases that rise up.

* This information is taken from the federal government’s A Strategic Framework for Volunteer Search Dogs in Australia.

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