FINDING OF INQUEST
An Inquest taken on behalf of our Sovereign Lady the Queen at Coober Pedy and Adelaide in the State of South Australia, on the 7th day of October, 1999 and 10th day of March, 2000, before Wayne Cromwell Chivell, a Coroner for the said State, concerning the death of Gabriele Grossmueller.
I, the said Coroner, do find that Gabriele Grossmueller, aged 28 years, late of Vienna, Austria, died on or about the 12th day of December, 1998 on a track approximately 38 kilometres east of William Creek, South Australia as a result of heat exhaustion and exposure. I find that the circumstances of death were as follows:-
1.1 On 15 December 1999 two German tourists, Christoph Kupper and Hans-Martin Kieser, were driving on the track which turns off from the Oodnadatta Track, about eleven kilometres South of William Creek. They were heading East towards Lake Eyre. About 30 kilometres along the track, they discovered the body of a person lying on the side of the road.
1.2 Without touching the body, they returned immediately to William Creek and informed the manager of the hotel, Mr. Mal Anderson. Mr. Anderson advised the police, who requested that he drive out and verify that it was not a hoax. Mr. Anderson did so, then arranged to meet the police at the turn-off.
1.3 Senior Constable Paul Liersch from Marree met Mr. Anderson, and they drove together to the body.
1.4 Mr. Liersch noted that the deceased had been carrying a rucksack and also saw a two-litre bottle, which contained approximately 1.5 litres of water. A later search of the rucksack revealed that she had been carrying another five litres of water in a container, and another two litre container containing 80mls of urine.
1.5 Also found in the rucksack was a note which read:-
Had to leave boyfriend alone due to health problems with less water.
( 5-10km past sign WC 50 - direction Lake Eyre.
Myself still trying to get out of this hell heading towards William Creek, which 2 inhabitants simply forgot us.
Please try to find us!"
(part of Exhibit C.8c)
1.6 The two men then drove further East to a junction in the road 24 kilometres further on, and found a note taped to a sign. After taking one road to the South East, and finding nothing, they took the North East road, and found the remains of another note on a sign. Driving further to the shore of Lake Eyre, they found shoe prints and tyre prints on the sand, and Senior Constable Liersch saw the sun reflecting off an object in the distance. They followed the tyre tracks to the tourist shelter at Halligan Bay.
1.7 Parked near the shelter, and bogged in the sand, was a Toyota Land Cruiser converted into a camper-van. It carried "Britz" signs, apparently indicating the company from which it had been hired.
1.8 Senior Constable Liersch said the vehicle was in "axle-twist", meaning that the front and rear axles were at an angle to each other (T.45). Since the differentials were not locked, this meant that power was not being applied to the wheels that were in contact with the sand, and so no traction could be obtained.
1.9 Inside the vehicle was a male person who identified himself as Karl Goeschka. Mr. Goeschka was in an agitated state initially, but was able to communicate that he and his girlfriend, Gabriele Grossmueller, were Austrian tourists, that they had driven to the area on Monday 7 December 1998 and become bogged, that on 9 December they had commenced to walk back, they camped that night but he felt unable to continue the next day so Gabriele continued alone. He said that he returned to the Toyota, arriving at about 2.00a.m. on 11 December, where he remained until they arrived.
1.10 In all the circumstances, I accept that the deceased has been sufficiently identified as Gabriele Grossmueller.
1.11 The body was conveyed in another vehicle back to William Creek by Detectives Harrison and Smith from Coober Pedy Criminal Investigation Branch. Mr. Anderson took Mr. Goeschka back in his vehicle.
1.12 Senior Constable Liersch returned to Halligan Bay the next day. He examined the vehicle and found that the underside was sitting on the sand. The tyres still had 34 pounds per square inch of air in them. He deflated the tyres and spent ten minutes digging sand out from under the vehicle with a shovel. He then drove the vehicle out of the bog with minimal difficulty (Exhibit C.7, p6).
1.13 On the way back, Senior Constable Liersch noted that there had been a cattle trough full of water only 700metres North-East of where Ms. Grossmueller died, and "numerous other yards, troughs, creek lines and dams" in the area she had passed through (Exhibit C.7, p7).
1.14 Coincidentally, on their way to Coober Pedy, the police officers found another tourist whose car had become bogged near Lake Cadibarrawirracanna. He had walked eight kilometres to the road to get help. They extricated this vehicle as well before continuing to Coober Pedy.
2. Cause of death
2.1 A post mortem examination of the body of the deceased was performed by Dr. R.A. James, forensic pathologist, on 18 December 1998. Dr. James attributed her death to "heat exhaustion and exposure" (Exhibit C.1b, p1).
2.2 The body was extensively decomposed and not visually identifiable. Dr. James’ comments were as follows:-
"The deceased was allegedly a student from Vienna who died after her vehicle was bogged near Lake Eyre. She apparently left on foot and perished approximately 40km from the vehicle. The extreme environmental temperatures of between 43°C and 46°C suggest that her survival time would have been limited under these conditions. The specific gravity of urine alleged to have been retained with the body was recorded at Coober Pedy at 1.030. The normal specific gravity is approximately 1.020. The minimum loss of fluid under ideal conditions is approximately 1200ml of fluid per day which must be replaced. The total body water for an adult is approximately 40 litres and an adult will normally become ill when the body fluid loss is approximately 4 litres or about 6% their body weight. Death will occur when body fluid loss is about 15 litres. The urine is haemoconcentrated and appears to have been saved in an effort to recycle water.
There is no evidence that death has occurred from other than the result of dehydration, heat exhaustion and exposure".
2.3 I accept Dr. James’ opinion, and find that the cause of death was heat exhaustion and exposure.
3.1 Mr. Goeschka and Ms. Grossmueller arrived in Australia on 17 October 1998 and collected a camper van in Darwin. They commenced an extensive tour through the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. They changed vehicles in Melbourne, then continued to Tasmania, then through South Australia before commencing their drive up the Oodnadatta Track.
3.2 On 6 December, they camped at Coward Springs, and then drove to William Creek the next day. Mr. Goeschka said:-
"Yeah, we went past this track because in our guide books and everywhere you read you have to inform people if you’re go on side tracks which are not often used and eh on the track itself there is a label saying the same when we entered the track, so we went to William Creek which was about 2pm on the 7th".
(Exhibit C.2a, p5)
Mr. Lempens, counsel for the Andersons, submitted that there was no such information in guidebooks found in the vehicle, which is strictly true. The sign referred to by Mr. Goeschka is a hand-painted one, similar to many placed throughout the North of the State by Mr. Adam Plate, of the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta. It has a skull and crossbones painted on it and says:-
"Anna Ck. Station track to various places including LAKE EYRE NTH 73. Low traffic track. Low vehicles should check in at William Ck. Hotel BEFORE traversing!"
The sign is situated at the side of the track just after the junction with the Oodnadatta Track, and only seven kilometres or so from William Creek.
3.3 There is also a document before me called a "Desert Parks Bulletin No. 76" dated 5 August 1997, which contains the following passage:-
"The lake is best viewed from near the park information shelter at Halligan Bay, south of William Creek, where the water is close to shore. Halligan Bay is accessible via a four-wheel drive track off the Oodnadatta Track. Travellers should advise the William Creek Hotel before travelling into this area".
(part of Exhibit C.8c)
This appears to have been produced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and would logically have been included in the "Desert Parks Pass" pack purchased at Marree by the travellers on 6 December 1998 (T.93), but there is no evidence that this particular document was in the vehicle. I accept that they relied on the sign alone.
3.4 Mr. Goeschka spoke to Mal Anderson’s son Shane at the hotel. Mr. Goeschka related the conversation to Detective Smith in his interview as follows:-
And eh we talked to him and his mother was standing behind him and um we told him we were trying to enter this track, this described to him this track we meant and he knew the track for sure and um he asked our car registration number and he asked what time we planned to be back, and we told him about the eighth the next day, ah noon, because perhaps we had intentions to stay overnight on this track.
OK. So you indicated to him that the latest you would be back would be 12 Midday on the 8th of December?
OK carry on please.
And he’s own words had been so if you’re not back at this time then you are in trouble and we have to get you out. And this were his own words and that made me sure that he knew what he did and he wrote everything down in a little booklet kind of journal and eh that made us feel sure that everything is OK. After that we left the roadhouse went back south and entered the track".
(Exhibit C.2a, p5-6)
3.5 Shane Anderson gave evidence at the hearing. In his statement to police (Exhibit C.5), Mr. Anderson substantially agreed with Mr. Goeschka’s version. He said:-
"I suggested to them we have a book where we would put in their details of when they would be returning and where they were going. I told them if something happened to them we would come out looking for them. I explained that if they gave a time when they would return we would note that they were not back and we would hit the panic button. By this time I mean we would look for them and notify the police they hadn’t returned. They appeared happy with that. The book I am referring to is normally kept beside the till on the right hand side. I went to enter the details and I couldn’t locate the book. I looked in the office and around the place but failed to find it. I started up a new book and entered the details. I put in the date, that is the actual day, their registration, the state it was registered, the date they expected to return which I remember was 12.00 midday on the 8th of December, 1998, where they were going and if they returned I would have marked it OK. They were due to return the following day.
They left and I continued working. I put the book next to the till. I didn’t tell anyone about the old book, that is, the fact that it was lost, I just sat the book next to the till. At the time I was speaking with the couple I don’t recall anyone else present. There may have been people in the bar I don’t recall. I don’t think any other family member was present. I didn’t tell anyone else about the couple as I had written it in the book.
My father was in Melbourne at the time. It is usual practice for my father to check the book nightly to see if anyone was missing. Unfortunately whilst my father was away no-one else checked the book. I didn’t give it another thought. We had a group of tourists arrive the following day who broke down and had to stay for four days. I was busy with them and other tourists. I don’t recall any other tourists going through the same way as the Austrian couple.
I didn’t tell anyone else that I had started a new book, I didn’t think to. I just put the book next to the till and forgot about it. The book got lost under everything else and I forgot about it. There were no other entries made in the new book or the old book. I was told that a female was found dead on the Tuesday the 15th of December, 1998. I was told by my mother. I returned to Horsham on the Saturday the 12th of December, 1998. I had forgotten about the tourists and prior to leaving I hadn’t checked the book or told any other staff member.
The procedure of the hotel in regard to the book is that if someone failed to return we would ring Paul Liersch of the Marree Police. We would tell him the details as written in the S.A.R. book. It has never happened to me that I have had to go looking for anyone but the contacting of the police is what my father told me to do if it did happen.
I stated earlier that I was told by my mother that the Austrian girl had been found dead on the Lake Eyre track on Tuesday the 15th. I had rang my mother because I was told by my wife that mum had rang to tell us the news. I didn’t think much about it at the start until dad rang the next morning to tell me we were in the shit because we didn’t honour the book. He said it shouldn’t of happened because we should have notified the police if we had been monitoring the book.
I panicked a bit because although I didn’t make the girl walk she should have been found a lot earlier. I was told the girl was found 35km from William Creek. It would have taken about 45 minutes to drive out the 35km. If I had checked the book I would have arranged to have the police notified and I guess the people would have been found earlier".
(Exhibit C.5, p2-3).
The book, with "SAR time book to Lake Eyre" written on the front, is Exhibit C.5b. Mr. Anderson said that he never checked the book of his own accord, only when advised that someone had arrived back safely (T.18).
3.6 The two tourists then proceeded to drive down the track to Lake Eyre, arriving at Halligan Bay at about 5.30p.m. While reversing the vehicle into position, it became bogged.
3.7 The following day, they made various attempts to extricate the vehicle, including deflating the tyres, using cups to dig out the sand, and using a luggage bag placed under the wheel to try and get traction, but were unsuccessful. Obviously, Mr. Goeschka did not understand axle twist.
3.8 They waited through the night of the 8th December, and when nobody came to find them on the 9th, they became "really frightened" since, from their conversation with Mr. Anderson, they believed they may not see another person for six weeks or more (Exhibit C.2a, p9).
3.9 At about 4.00p.m. on 9 December, they commenced hiking back to William Creek. They took a tent, various small articles, and 17 litres of water between them.
3.10 The weather at that time was extremely hot. Detective Smith ascertained that on 9 December the maximum temperature (taken as an average of the readings from Marree and Oodnadatta) was 40.15°, on 10 December it was 39.40°, on the 11th it was 41.55°, and on the 12th it was 42.65°. He reported that the Bureau of Meteorology advised him that these were shade temperatures, and that in direct sun it would have been 15 - 20°C hotter (Exhibit C.8, p9). I travelled along this track with Senior Constable Liersch on 4 October 1999. I can confirm that there are no trees, nor any other shade, on the track at all. There is little ground cover, and the earth in some places is almost black. It must have been extremely hot when Ms. Grossmueller tried to walk along the track, and I can understand why she described it as "this hell".
3.11 After resting for a few hours, they began walking again at about 2.00a.m. on 10 December, but Mr. Goeschka decided he would not be able to make the journey, so they decided to separate. He kept three litres of water, and she took the nine that were left.
3.12 Mr. Goeschka said that Ms. Grossmueller had almost finished her medical training, and had knowledge of the human body. She pointed out that she was a better walker on flat ground, that she used less water, and was able to tolerate the heat better (C.2a, p12). Mr. Goeschka acquiesced in her decision. Ms. Grossmueller set off by herself at about 4.00a.m. on 10 December 1998.
3.13 Mr. Goeschka remained in the tent for the rest of that day, which was very hot. He had only one litre of water left. He thought if he stayed where he was he would die, so he decided to try and walk back to the car, arriving at about 2.00a.m. on 11 December. He remained there until Senior Constable Liersch arrived on 15 December, 1998. From the notes he wrote while waiting, he expected to die, even with all the provisions he had with him in the car.
4. Issues arising at inquest
4.1 This inquest attracted a considerable degree of public attention. There are large numbers of tourists passing through these remote outback areas. Shane Anderson said that approximately 80,000 people pass his father’s hotel each year (T.16). Increasing numbers of these people are from overseas, and have hired four-wheel-drive vehicles in Australia for the journey. The potential hazards of outback travel, particularly in summer, are obvious. There is little shade, and temperatures in the sun can be 60°C or more. Such temperatures are lethal within a relatively short period if the traveller is not adequately prepared, and fails to take appropriate measures for his or her own safety.
4.2 Driver training
Mr. Goeschka said that he received little instruction and no training in four-wheel-driving techniques (Exhibit C.2a, p21). In particular, he had no experience in extricating a heavy vehicle after it had become bogged.
4.3 Mr. Goeschka knew enough about the vehicle to lock the free-wheel-hubs on the front wheels, so that four-wheel-drive was effectively engaged.
4.4 Clearly, Mr. Goeschka did not understand the concept of "axle-twist". As I have already explained, in a vehicle with non-locking differentials, all the power goes to the wheel with no traction. If these wheels are diagonally opposite each other on the vehicle, no effective traction can be achieved until all four wheels have been dug out and are applying equal traction to the surface (T.46). The only alternative is to fit front and rear differential locks to the vehicle at considerable expense. These are usually only fitted by experienced four-wheel-drivers who want to traverse very difficult terrain.
4.5 Mr. Goeschka was aware of the benefit to be gained by deflating the tyres. He said he allowed 30 seconds for each tyre (Exhibit C.26, p2). That was obviously insufficient to allow him to drive out of the bog. Senior Constable Liersch said that when he tested the tyres he found that the pressure was still about 30 pounds per square inch, and he deflated them even further, to about 24, as well as digging sand from under the vehicle before it could be driven out. Detective Smith confirmed that the tyres were at 24 when he checked them at Coober Pedy (Exhibit C.8, p10).
4.6 Equipment provided for the vehicle
Mr. Goeschka said that he specifically obtained permission from the hire company, Britz, to travel on the Oodnadatta Track. He said that he was told that "as long as they are recognised tracks, it’s OK to drive". He said that he insisted on them sending written confirmation of that permission so that he knew he was covered for insurance purposes (Exhibit C.2a, p22).
4.7 Mr. Lempens, counsel for the Andersons, submitted that Britz should not have given permission to drive the vehicle on the Oodnadatta Track until it was equipped, at the least, with a shovel, a winch, a radio beacon (EPIRB), and a radio.
4.8 If they had stayed on the Oodnadatta Track itself, I doubt that this equipment was necessary. The track is quite a well-made dirt road which can be used by two-wheel drive vehicles, trucks, etc. As Senior Constable Liersch said:-
"Obviously there’s a difference between crossing a desert or driving on a dirt road from Marree to Oodnadatta to Marla".
4.9 I travelled on the track, from the turn-off to Halligan Bay, with Senior Constable Liersch on 4 October 1998. I can confirm that the equipment required for such a trip is a different question. This was obviously not appreciated by Mr. Goeschka. He thought it was sufficient to simply advise the hotel (see Exhibit C.2a, p23).
4.10 Mr. Liersch said that the basic equipment which should be carried on such a road included:-
• some basic knowledge;
• a radio - preferably HF or a satellite telephone, but a UHF or even a CB radio could have helped (Mr. Liersch described how one traveller who was bogged on the Birdsville Track used his CB radio, and was heard in Mackay, Queensland, and the message was relayed to Marree - T.55);
• a shovel, preferably long-handled;
• two spare tyres;
4.11 Of course, professional people, such as Police, operating in these areas carry a much greater level of equipment than that (see T.51), but the chances that these people could have extricated themselves from the sand, or called for help, would have been much greater if that basic level of equipment was on board.
An EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) is a very useful safety device, made famous after lone around-the-world yachtsman Tony Bullimore activated his, and was rescued in the far-Southern Ocean. They can be purchased for only a few hundred dollars, and are small and easily portable. I note that an Outback Safety Working Group ("OSWG"), set up under the auspices of the S.A. Tourism Commission, recommended in a draft report dated December 1999, among many other things, that S.A. Police:-
"Consider the desirability or otherwise of encouraging/requiring all hire vehicles that will be travelling to the Outback and remote areas of S.A., to be fitted with EPIRBs".
4.13 There are a number of practical difficulties with EPIRBs, including the fact that they can be accidentally activated, or activated by an inexperienced traveller who may not be in a dangerous position. An unnecessary, but very expensive search may then ensue. Another problem is that the EPIRB may engender a false sense of security, and detract from attention being paid to training and provision of other basic equipment.
4.14 I agree with the OSWG that the issue requires further analysis.
4.15 Preparation for the trip
Mr. Goeschka and Ms. Grossmueller were carrying a number of publications with them which provided advice on survival in an emergency. These are listed in Exhibit C.8, p12. In particular, the Desert Parks Handbook sets out a list of the minimum amount of equipment to be taken, which is more extensive than the one I have just outlined.
4.16 Without going to unnecessary detail, the basic message, repeated several times, was that the following basic steps should be taken:-
• do not leave the vehicle;
• stay in the shade;
• conserve water;
• prepare signals (e.g. by using mirrors, lighting a fire, burning spare tyre or engine oil).
Senior Constable Liersch agreed that these are "basic rules" (T.58).
4.17 Mr. Goeschka said that they read these instructions carefully (Exhibit C.2a, p22), and Detective Smith commented that they had "tried more than most" (T.77). However, it must be said that these basic rules were not heeded. It seems to me that the most likely explanation is that they panicked. Both Senior Constable Liersch (T.60) and Detective Smith (T.81) said that, had these rules been heeded, it is highly likely that Ms. Grossmueller would not have perished.
4.18 Involvement of William Creek Hotel
Mr. Mal Anderson, the manager of the hotel, attempted to avoid any responsibility for these events on the basis that:-
• he did not know about the sign on the track telling people to advise staff at the hotel (T.23). I do not accept his evidence about this. His son knew about it (T.16) - clearly, that was the reason why tourists were reporting in at the hotel - why else would Shane have devised the SAR book? In any event, he said that he believed there was advice in a Lonely Planet book to the same effect (T.24);
• Shane did not even know what SAR stood for (Search and Rescue) (T.27). This is wrong. Shane did understand that - see his evidence at T.18. Where else would that acronym come from, other than from his father, who is a pilot?
• the book was not meant to be acted upon (T.25). I reject this assertion. Shane told the police (Exhibit C.5, p2):-
"It is usual practice for my father to check the book nightly to see if anyone was missing. ... the contacting of the police is what my father told me to do if it (i.e. someone went missing) did happen".
Mr. Anderson knew that his son referred to it as the SAR book (T.27);
• the sign on the track was still there at the time of the inquest (T.29). He had not tried to take it down as "it’s not my sign". Mr. Lempens suggested his client had no authority to remove it - but he has now taken steps to do so.
4.19 I reject all of these arguments. The basic facts are that:-
• Shane Anderson thought his father checked the SAR book nightly;
• Shane Anderson told Mr. Goeschka and Ms. Grossmueller that "we would note that they were not back and hit the panic button";
• Mr. Goeschka and Ms. Grossmueller relied on that intimation and undertook the trip. Mr. Goeschka said:-
"I would never have gone on this track without telling somebody. I mean I know that this is dangerous. I would perhaps go five kilometres on the track without telling somebody because I can walk five kilometres under all circumstances".
(Exhibit C.2a, p24)
Mr. Lempens argued that his clients had no "legal responsibility" for the safe return of tourists from the Lake Eyre track. Mr. Anderson was in a business which relied completely upon tourism. Mr. Goeschka and Ms. Grossmueller had patronised his hotel. In the circumstances outlined above, I do not think that Mr. Lempens’ submission is right. I should not go further, in case I contravene Section 26(3) of the Coroners Act.
4.20 I have considerable sympathy for Mr. Anderson, and the position he found himself in. I think that the SAR book was a well-meaning and genuine attempt to provide a service to outback travellers, and to ensure their safety. I have the impression that Mr. Anderson and his son are good-hearted people who may have allowed their generosity to put them in a risky position without sufficient regard for the consequences. Senior Constable Liersch said:-
"A. ... I had spoken to Malcolm about his dealings or the way he was dealing with travellers through the area because he did seem to be a little bit overburdened or overwhelmed by it all I suppose, yes.
Q. Can you tell us a bit more about that.
A. Just on general etiquette of travelling the bush and his assisting people. He was giving away tyres and things to people that were in trouble and trusting their goodwill to return them and they weren’t. Just a few different things like that that had occurred. He was towing people, not getting paid, I just sort of explained to him that perhaps he should be a little bit more - he perhaps shouldn’t let them take advantage of him in that way".
I am inclined to view the SAR book in the same light.
4.21 Alternative notification methods
The defects in the SAR book system have been tragically illustrated in this case. If the book is not checked conscientiously, it will not be effective. Failure by travellers to advise of their safe arrival, or a decision to take a different route to the one advised, will also create great difficulties (see the evidence of Liersch at T.71 and Smith at T.80).
4.22 The method now adopted by police in the area, and which has now been adopted by Mr. Anderson, is as Senior Constable Liersch said that he advises travellers to:-
"contact a responsible person, advise that person of their intended route, their times of arrival, ring that person now when you’re leaving Marree and ring them when you get to your location and destination and advise them what your plans are from there, tell them if they haven’t heard from you in ‘x’ amount of time, then for them to contact me and then I usually give them my phone number".
By a "responsible person", he meant a relative or friend, even if that person is interstate or overseas.
4.23 I agree that this seems to be the only workable method of keeping a "SAR watch" as the pilots call it. It is just not practicable to expect public officials to monitor the movement of tourists in this way. Relatives or friends can be relied upon to follow the travellers’ movements, and comply with deadlines set to suit the individual case.
4.24 It was suggested that Britz could have been relied upon to sound the alarm if the vehicle did not arrive by 20 December 1998. Detective Smith confirmed that he was advised that the company would have waited twenty-four further hours, and then contacted the police (T.85). The difficulty then, however, would have been to decide where the search should commence. The travellers had covered an enormous distance on their trip. If police had inquired at the William Creek Hotel, the SAR book would probably have been found, but not necessarily so. I do not think that Mr. Goeschka can be criticised for not relying on that eventuality.
4.25 Mr. Adam Plate, who, as I have said, is a well-known tourism identity from Oodnadatta, has placed hundreds of signs, like the one on the Halligan Bay track, to inform and warn tourists. He has written to me suggesting that the Government should sponsor a scheme whereby travellers could pay for a SAR-watch scheme. They could use a central toll-free number to start and cancel the watch, using voice-recording technology. I can see that his proposal has merit, although I am not qualified to say whether it is feasible or would be economically viable. I commend his proposal to OSWG for their consideration.
5. Circumstances of death
5.1 Detective Smith indicated that there was nothing to indicate that Ms. Grossmueller’s death occurred in circumstances other than those described by Mr. Goeschka. He pointed to a number of factors which objectively supported his version of the events:-
1. Body located on the route travelled by the van.
2. No evidence of the track used by other vehicles with past two weeks.
3. Direction deceased located from van is consistent with information supplied by Goeschka.
4. Clothing located worn by deceased is described by Goeschka, in particular the fact that the body was wearing his hiking boots.
5. All items in rucksack located on deceased have been identified as belonging to either Goeschka or Grossmueller.
6. Notes located in rucksack have been identified by Goeschka as written by himself or Grossmueller.
7. No other person reported missing in that area.
8. The decomposition of the body is consistent with time frame of last sighting, weather conditions and location.
9. The notes located in the rucksack were written in English and German, the two languages spoken and written by Grossmueller and Goeschka."
(Exhibit C.8, p7).
I would add that there is no evidence to suggest that Ms. Grossmueller died from other than natural causes.
5.2 Mr. Lempens pointed to several matters which he said throw some doubt upon Mr. Goeschka’s credibility. These include the fact that the tent was not found, and that there were no footprints to support his assertion that he left with Ms. Goeschka, then returned to the car.
5.3 As to the tent, there were high winds in the area - in four days, the tent could have blown many kilometres away. As to the footprints, Senior Constable Liersch said that he did not check them closely (T.64), and in any event there were several tracks in the area leading to the shelter at Halligan Bay. Mr. Liersch could have taken a different track from the one Mr. Goeschka walked on.
5.4 There is nothing in the circumstances of this tragedy which gives me any cause to doubt Mr. Goeschka’s outline of what occurred. He is a resident of Austria, and I decided that the inconvenience and expense involved in bringing him to Australia to give evidence was not justified. He has cooperated and been completely open with the police and with counsel assisting me. I accept his evidence as to the circumstances of Ms. Grossmueller’s death.
6.1 I have been supplied with a draft of the report of the Outback Safety Working Group. I have already referred to this in relation to one issue. In my opinion, the report is a very comprehensive and useful document which will generate debate, particularly among people involved in Outback tourism, which will effectively inform Government policy.
6.2 Recommendations of the OSWG Report include proposals for:-
• information sessions for tourism operators;
• insurance against search and rescue costs;
• mandating the carrying of safety devices;
• internet links to information websites;
• orientation sessions and training for tourists who hire four-wheel-drives;
• explanation of road signs;
• publicising UHF channel information;
• review of signage on Public Access Routes;
• safety messages on signs and promotional material;
• preparation of an outback safety guide;
• mandating the carrying of EPIRBs;
• consideration of cost recovery for search and rescue;
• publicising search and rescue procedures more widely;
• equipment standards being a criteria for accreditation of hire car companies.
6.3 Section 25(2) of the Coroners Act empowers me to make recommendations which may "prevent, or reduce the likelihood of, a recurrence of an event similar to the event that was the subject of the inquest".
6.4 I consider that all of the recommendations made by the OSWG draft report may have the effect contemplated by Section 25(2). I therefore adopt them and commend them for consideration.
6.5 In addition to those recommendations, I am of the opinion that the following further recommendations should be made:-
• that Government agencies (especially Police and Department of the Environment and Natural Resources) should consult with tourism operators in outback areas to devise a uniformly accepted approach to the notification of travel in remote areas;
• that the Tourism Industry and the Minister of Tourism give consideration to the proposal of Mr. Adam Plate for the establishment of a "Check In" facility for outback travellers.
Key Words: outback driving; safety equipment
In witness whereof the said Coroner has hereunto set and subscribed his hand and
Seal the 10th day of March, 2000.