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’.