Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Searching for Prabh

 It's a cold, wet and miserable day here in Canberra, the rain is coming down in force and I can hear it's heavy drum cascading over the house and pergola roof and given it's strength, can only suggest that it has set in for the day.

 One can only imagine what it is like in the Snowy Mountains, 100 miles or so to the south. Conditions there are likely much worse, near to freezing on a day like today, at least not much above that and I daresay rain is falling as snow on Kosciuszko and surrounds, lifting the spirits of the people who call the area home and make a living through the trade the ski season brings.

 Not so happy would be the family of Prabhdeep Srawn, a Canadian law student from Brampton, Ontario, who is studying law at Bond University in Queensland, who, whilst hiking in the vicinity of Mount Kosciuszko on May 14, went missing in a blizzard which struck suddenly and heavily and has not been seen or heard from since.

Unfortunately, Mr Srawn had not told anyone of his plans and was not reported missing until his rented van was found derelict in the Charlotte Pass car park on May 20. A potentially fatal oversight!

 Police, SES, Park Rangers and attached assets launched a search and concluded after some days that Mr Srawn could not have survived for that length of time and called a halt, much to the disgust of the missing man's family who have subsequently spent a lot of time denigrating the NSW  police force, the Australian and Canadian governments and anyone else who takes their fancy. They have also spent and promised a lot of money on private searches and a reward for finding Prabhdeep, initially $15 000, now increased to $100 000, to anyone who can find or recover him, dead or alive.

 I am deeply saddened that this fate has befallen a fellow who is obviously much loved but the continuous criticism of the NSW police force and others who put their lives on the line trying to find him in the most treacherous conditions the Australian bush allows has left a bad taste in many people's mouth. People who would have been otherwise very sympathetic to their cause.

 Many tourists come to the Australian Alps from the northern hemisphere and quite frankly, ignore the dangers this area of Australia poses to the unsuspecting and unprepared, feeling there is nothing in the Australian high country which can bother them in comparison to where they are from. Many of these people learn quickly that this is not the case.

 Mr Srawn didn't bother to register for the walk with authorities in Jindabyne where he also would have received advice on the prevailing weather in the mountains which can turn on a dime and where he would have been able to hire a homing beacon which in hindsight would have come in very handy indeed.

 He was dressed entirely inappropriately for the conditions wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of jeans and set off on his merry way oblivious to the oncoming blizzard which was soon to engulf the mountains and himself. He broke nearly every rule Australians are taught from a young age, Canadians too I'm sure, when hiking in wilderness areas away from  civilisation where help may not be quickly at hand. If he had merely told someone where he was going and when he would be back there would have been boots on the ground the next morning and while this may not have saved his life it certainly would have increased his chances of survival one hundred fold.

  It is heartbreaking to see his family living with such hope when everything suggests that he was probably deceased before the search even began. Miracles do happen of course but the Australian bush is a hard taskmaster and the odds which affect careless people who hike dangerously caught up with Prabhdeep unfortunately. Another case of overestimating ability and underestimating the environment.

 Most people would be able to do this walk by themselves the way Prabh did and never tell anyone and get away with it and many do. But one day, someone's number will come up. May 14 was Prabh's day.

 The $100 000 reward put up by Prabh's family seems to have lured many to the mountains in the hope of making a fortune and it it can only be imagined the type who are impatiently waiting for the weather to clear in order to get up into the harsh and unforgiving country beyond Charlotte Pass. It is perhaps no surprise the police have been uncooperative. They don't want to be out looking for cowboys who thought they knew better than the professionals. Which takes me back to the Srawn family's criticism of the police.

 I have no doubt the police searched for the missing man as effectively as they could. Whether that was good enough is impossible to say from this distance. Searching for the lost and injured in that terrain is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But to question the professionalism of men who spend their lives searching for and rescuing others is beyond the pale. Especially when you have no experience yourself. I doubt Prabh was treated any differently to any others who venture into the mountains and get lost. Well done to them.

 So as the last acts of this tragic little saga play out it is worth remembering that everything in life involves a risk. Judge them and take your chance if the odds are on your side. But cover yourself because people go missing in the Australian bush whilst out on easy and pleasurable hikes. And sometimes they are never found.

 Have a nice day.

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