Where is Betty O’Pray?

On 20/03/2016, in News, by admin

7241902-3x4-340x453Where 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’.

14 Responses to Where is Betty O’Pray?

  1. Christa Michaelis says:

    Dear Richard, thank you for your article. I have been following the news about Betty’s disappearance and noticed that mainstream media have not been providing updates in the past few days.
    Like you, I am intrigued by the fact that there has been no trace of Betty, despite all the searches. As I work in community/aged care, I have a lot of first hand experience of cognitive impairment issues. It is so sad to imagine her being lost, alone and confused.
    I still hope she will be found alive!
    Please keep up your reporting.
    Best regards,

  2. admin says:

    Thank you for your comments, Christa. I moved up to the mountains in recent months and got to find my way around the tracks – so when I had the time I also went out looking for Betty. Almost everywhere, it seemed, the official searchers had left pink ribbons on branches to show that this or that area had been searched. It was a very thorough job – yet no trace of Betty, which still strikes me as strange. Sadly, it looks like the search has been wound down in recent days as two weeks lost in the bush is a very long time for anyone, let alone an elderly lady prone to confusion. But hope has to continue to be held out…

  3. Julie says:

    You Richard. You sound like you know the area well. Where can she be ? The trail seems to have gone cold. 🙁

  4. jo says:

    Thank you Richard for this extremely well written and compassionate piece. It’s upsetting to think of Elizabeth out there alone; she looks like such a gentle person. If I mention to anyone that her disappearance is strange, they immediately trot out the mild dementia but as you stated, it doesn’t explain why she hasn’t been found. Surely the phone call roughly fixed her location and I presume she was told by police to stay put. I wonder how she got into the clearing in the first place. Do you happen to know if an Aboriginal tracker was consulted? I’d appreciate an updates via email or on your site.

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jo. I’m afraid I don’t know any more at this stage. But I’ll keep the site updated if there are any developments.

  6. Robyn says:

    Thank you too Richard for taking the time to write this compassionate article.
    I volunteered for 2 of those search days & am still haunted by the fact that Betty has not been found. I feel tremendously sad for her family as they still have no answers to her disappearance.

  7. Irene says:

    I also am very sad for the family not knowing what happened to their mother.
    And poor Betty would of been very cold, wet, thirsty and hungry.
    My heart bleeds for her and how she felt the first 2 weeks when she went missing.

  8. jo says:

    No news for weeks. Nothing. If Elizabeth were a missing child there would be an uproar. A frail-looking elderly woman has apparently forced her way through difficult to penetrate bush and got herself into a clearing from which she subsequently disappeared. I’d like to know what she said in the phone call with police. Didn’t another elderly woman disappear up there a few years ago?

  9. admin says:

    I hope to get an update next week and will let you all know as soon as possible.

  10. jo says:

    Thanks Richard. I’d appreciate it.

  11. Ruthie says:

    Any update? Been thinking about poor Betty every day.

  12. Bronwyn CUPITT says:

    Is there any news or update on Betty ?

  13. Geoff says:

    I was driving in the area in October 2015 and saw Betty (as I later found out) sitting on a track to the west of the road. I suspected that she was hurt so pulled up and drove back. Got out of the car and walked down the track to find that she’d fallen over and was not able to get up. She’d grazed her self and was bleeding and had been sitting there waving at cars for quite some time. It was lucky that I saw her. I helped her up to my car, cleaned up her wounds and drove her home. We rang her daughter who turned up about 40 minutes later. My wife and I had a cup of tea with Betty whilst waiting and she was a charming lady. She told us of her life in Scotland and the move to Australia and we had a lovely chat.

    Like everyone else I find it incredibly difficult to believe that she wandered too far from the main track. The bush is thick and from what I learned about her, she was neither strong or agile enough to negotiate walking through scrub on uneven ground.

  14. admin says:

    Many thanks for your observations, Geoffrey. Your belief that it would be incredibly difficult for a frail old lady like Betty to become so lost that hundreds of searchers could not find her over a period of two weeks. It’s a great mystery and I wonder if we’ll ever know what happened to her. Obviously it’s very sad and distressing for her family.

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