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Tragic end to Bluff Knoll search

A desperate six-day search for missing Mandurah mother Lorjie Bautista has come to a tragic end at Bluff Knoll.

A week after she set out on her hike, a body believed to be that of the 39-year-old Mandurah mother was found in dense bush near the foot of a steep incline on the north face of one of WA’s highest peaks.

Acting Great Southern Superintendent Alex Ryan said the body was found by a police helicopter, below a vertical wall of Bluff Knoll, well away from public access trails.

“The body is still to be formally identified, but we believe it is the body of missing woman Lorjie Bautista. Her family were advised yesterday afternoon,” Supt Ryan said.

“The body was sighted by the police aerial search team who were searching a particular grid.

“It wasn’t a new search area but the terrain has been very difficult. By chance they observed the body there.”

The grisly discovery marked a sad end to a massive search which involved dozens of State Emergency Services volunteers, police officers and Parks and Wildlife officers. Their efforts were bolstered by helicopters, a drone and a tracker dog.

SES members at Bluff Knoll.SES members at Bluff Knoll.
Camera IconSES members at Bluff Knoll.Picture: Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Speaking from her home in the Philippines, Mrs Bautista’s older sister, Dylin Bueno, said she wanted to express her gratitude to the search teams.

“I’m very thankful for the police, rescue operators and volunteers for the effort they gave to find my sister,” she said.

“I’m very proud to all of you there. You (have) done a great job.

“Continue this kind of passion to all your countrymen. May God bless you all.”

Supt Ryan said rope teams were with the body yesterday, preparing to bring it down from the mountain.

“At this stage it’s looking like they will winch her down with the helicopter rather than walk her down, subject to weather conditions,” he said.

“At this point I believe her husband (Anand) and daughter are here in Albany.

“Our opportunity to extract the body on Tuesday was difficult due to the terrain and lack of light, so we returned to Bluff Knoll this morning (Wednesday).

“It is difficult and steep terrain, the position of the body is in a technically difficult area. We aren’t going to take any risks.”

The body was found by a police helicopter.The body was found by a police helicopter.
Camera IconThe body was found by a police helicopter.Picture: Jessica Cuthbert., Jessica Cuthbert

SES Great Southern district officer Gary Logan said his team had stayed hopeful through the search.

“We hung her photo up on our wall here on the base camp, so when we briefed the team we kept reminding them that this young lady was relying on us to save her,” he said.

“The volunteers had put in a lot of effort, especially those who have been there since Thursday night.

“We got volunteers in from Albany, Gnowangerup, Mt Barker, Denmark, Wagin, Kondinin as well as south-west teams from Bunbury, Manjimup and Margaret River.

“It was very trying and being in the nature of where we are, even the logistics of keeping them fed and taking some food and water to the volunteers was pretty difficult at times.”

Supt. Ryan said it was a sad conclusion for all involved in the search but he praised the efforts of volunteers in searching “arguably some of the most difficult terrain in the State”.

“It is a sad outcome but it provides an opportunity for the family to have some closure. Now the family know she is not missing … and they can grieve ” he said.

“Police would like to thank every single person involved, we are extremely proud and praise their efforts — without them this search would not be possible.

“Everyone is impacted by something like this. It is a sad end for everyone.”

“In particular the state SES volunteers who gave up their time and Mother’s Day to come out here and search an area are that is arguably some of the most difficult terrain in the state.”

Supt. Ryan said the incident served as a reminder of recommended safety measures for those wanting to hike Bluff Knoll.

“WA Police and Parks and Wildlife strongly recommend people to stick to the track and follow all the signs,” he said.

“Be prepared, register in and be prepared for the changing weather, steepness of the track and extremely difficult terrain.”

A report will be prepared for the State coroner.

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