Where is Betty O’Pray?
How can an elderly lady, 77 years old, vanish into thin air as she strolled along a fairly well-worn track in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales??
Elizabeth – Betty to her friends – is believed to have set off for a walk along the track that leads from her home in Medlow Bath to the main Blue Mountains town of Katoomba, some 6km away, on Monday March 7.
A family member spoke to her on her mobile phone at about 11am that day but by 11pm she hadn’t returned home – so the police were alerted. They managed to contact Betty by phone but then lost the connection. In that brief conversation, she was not able to tell police exactly where she was, but said she was all right, although she was running out of water. She was in a clearing, she said.
In following days, helicopters flew over the area where she might have been, based on calculating the signal from her phone to its the connection with a mobile transmission tower. Teams of searchers grew, but there was no sign of the elderly lady, who had been born in Scotland but had lived in Medlow Bath for a number of years.
By Monday, March 21, Betty will have been missing for two weeks – and that’s a long time for an elderly person to be lost in the bush. She might be able to find water, particularly as it has been raining occasionally, but she certainly doesn’t have any food.
So where is she? Searchers have combed virtually every inch of the bushland alongside the track she regularly walked along. It wends up and down, but it’s virtually impossible for anyone to lose their way because it’s wide and runs beside a fenced-off railway line, which in turn follows the Great Western Highway. The sound of large trucks is always within earshot of the track.
For Betty to become lost after setting out that day she would have had to step off the main path and head into the bush. And while there are minor tracks she could have followed, search teams have been through them and also broken away into the thick undergrowth. They’ve called her name, they’ve shouted ‘Coo-eeee!’ – then listened in the hope of hearing a reply from the missing woman. But nothing.
There were reports of a resident living on a plateau hearing cries for help from the bushland below, but another thorough search failed to find any sign of Betty and there is the possibility that the cry had a reasonable explanation – such as searchers shouting to one another.
But how far could Betty have got, had she indeed struck off into the bush for an unknown reason (perhaps because she had become disoriented, as she is reported to have suffered from mild dementia)? She is unlikely to have been able to travel far into the undergrowth, which grabs at the face, entangles itself in legs, snares feet and has steep slopes that can easily provoke a fall.
Experts have rappelled down cliff faces on the off chance that Betty was down there but the result has been the same – no sign of her.
Teams of police, firemen, State Emergency Service volunteers and civilians have all contributed tirelessly, knocking on doors in a wide radius in the hope that someone might have seen Betty somewhere – perhaps as she walked into a built up area. Police have also asked for anyone who was in the Medlow Bath vicinity to provide them with photos they might have taken in the days before, during and after Betty first went missing in the hope that they might glean something from the direction she was walking.
A resident who lives beside the path told me that she spoke to Betty recently on one of her walks and the elderly lady seemed a little confused. The resident asked Betty if she was all right and she assured the resident she was fine, thank you, and carried on her way.
Perhaps there’s a clue there – that on the day she set out she ended up becoming disoriented. But it doesn’t explain why she can’t be found.
The search appears to be winding down. But it is to be hoped that everyone in the region remains vigilant. It would be wonderful to run a headline along the lines of ‘Miracle in the Mountains’.
Investigators in Australia and Malaysia are expected to soon announce the results of their probes of ‘possible MH370 parts’ found off Mozambique – but already serious doubts are being raised by aviation and ocean experts.
If the parts – strongly believed soon after the announcement of their discoveries to be from the missing jet – are proved to be unconnected, then a new and disturbing scenario arises: trickery has been afoot.
In particular a large piece presumed to be part of a Boeing 777 flap fairing and bearing a stencilled code 676EB, which is stamped on that model of plane, would cast serious doubts on the MH370 investigation should it be found to be too clean to have been in the water for two years.
And already respected aviation writer Jeff Wise and marine biologists he has spoken to are suggesting today that the part found off Mozambique in February by US lawyer Blaine Gibson and the larger piece discovered by South African teenager earlier this month, also off Mozambique, could not be from MH370 because they lack evidence of long-term immersion in sea water.
In fact Mr Wise now concludes that ‘it is entirely possible that one or both of the Mozambique objects were never in then ocean at all.’
And he insists that it is incumbent on all the relevant authorities ‘to make public the details of a close examination of the parts in order to determine how these objects could have arrived in the western Indian Ocean.’
With a third piece recently discovered on Reunion being discounted as having come from the missing jet, it is now appearing that the only aircraft part that has been confirmed as being part of the plane – although a 100 per cent final confirmation is still being awaited – is a barnacle-covered flaperon found on Reunion in July last year.
As MH370 was the only Boeing 777 to be lost in the Indian Ocean region – ever – there appeared little doubt that the part found by South African Liam Lotter, with its Boeing identifying stamp, had to be from the missing jet.
But why is it so clean? No sand particles, no barnacles, no algae, no evidence of any sea life or growth whatsoever.
It has been suggested that Mr Lotter might have cleaned the part up, but biologists said there are too many tiny parts in the honeycomb linings for it to be so exceptionally clean. And a poster on Mr Wise’s blog says he has asked Mr Lotter if he had washed the piece and he replied: ‘No I didn’t clean it at all.’
Mr Wise points out that during a survey of debris in the Pacific, marine biologist Miriam Goldstein collected 242 objects and found that all of them had organisms growing on them, apart from two that were just one inch square.
Another biologist, Mike Gil from the University of Florida, also carried out a similar survey in the eastern Pacific and apart from minute objects ‘we didn’t find any clean debris.’
Photos of the Reunion flaperon and the Mozambique pieces show an extreme contrast, with the flaperon being covered in barnacles and the Mozambique parts displaying only clean surfaces.
Mr Wise, a former pilot, says that a comparison of the size of barnacles found on a boat that had spent eight months drifting from Australia to the western Indian Ocean island of Mayotte and the barnacle size on the flaperon suggests that the wing part had been in the water for between four and six months.
Another ocean expert spoken to by Mr Wise has also cast serious doubts on the length of time the pieces found by Mr Gibson and Mr Lotter could have been in the water.
Sam Chan, who studies invasive sea species at Oregon State University, estimated the amount of time the objects had been in the water ‘could be a couple of weeks. It’s certainly not indicative of something that has been in the water for multiple years, let alone even half a year.
‘If there’s no fouling, was it even in the water?’
Mr Wise’s findings on his latest blog has resulted in a flood of writers adding their doubts about the pieces found off Mozambique.
One writer, Ed Metcalfe, said that while he is not a conspiracy fan ‘this situation smacks of human intervention regarding the distribution of the debris.’
Another poster said that ‘it would seem there are few ways to explain the absence of biofouling that do not suggest some sort of human intervention.’
Only time will tell what the next step will be in this baffling aviation mystery.