1998 Death at Halligans Bay - Caroline Grossmueller

Submitted: Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 06:32
ThreadID: 73559 Views:20532 Replies:10 FollowUps:16
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On our trip up north last month we drove out to Halligan Bay on Lake Eyre and saw this on the track about halfway out:



and wondered how someone could die so close to civilisation. The story doesn’t seem to be posted anywhere on here so we googled the name and it is certainly a tragic tale:

Caroline Grossmueller

On the 7th of December 1998 tourists Karl Goeschka and Caroline Grossmueller (from Vienna, Austria) left William Creek Hotel to travel 65 km East to Lake Eyre. Before leaving the hotel the couple signed their name in a register letting the boy behind the counter know about their whereabouts in case they would not be back within a few days so he could raise the alarm. After arriving at the banks of the lake that evening they bogged their Britz troopy campervan manoeuvring in loose sand at the camp site. Karl did let the tires down a bit and dug some of the sand away with a plate but was unable to get it free.

They were stuck at the bush camping site, had a full 65 litre water tank in the vehicle and enough food to survive for weeks. They were bogged next to a shelter with large water tank containing over 300 litres of water. Karl and Caroline were confident that the hotel boy would raise the alarm and that someone would come to their rescue. But after 2 days of waiting at the banks of the dry lake, there was no sign of help. They became worried that somehow they were forgotten. As it happened, the boy had left the hotel the following day after his father returned. He had written the whereabouts of the couple in a new book because he couldn’t find the existing one. When the father returned he only checked the old book, not finding any indication that anyone was still out at the lake. Caroline and Karl decided that she could not wait any longer. They took a tent, various small articles, and 17 litres of water between them. As an experienced walker and medical student Caroline estimated they could do about 4-5 km an hour in the night, making it possible to do the 65km in less than 12-14 hours, just enough time before the heat of the day would become unbearable. However the temperature was over 40º each day (shade temperature) and did not drop much below 35º at night. They only walked 5 hours before needing to rest for another 5 having already drunk half their water. After another hours walking Caroline left Karl who felt he couldn’t continue, taking his boots because her shoes had started to melt and most of their remaining water and heading on alone about 4:00am on the 10th. Karl stayed in the tent during the day and returned to the lake that evening. Caroline only covered half the distance to William Creek and was found dead five days later by two German tourists. Caroline had died next to the road, half way between Lake Eyre and the Hotel. She managed to walk about 30 km before collapsing. She still carried almost 2 litres of water on her and had walked past cattle troughs and dams containing water (and was only 700m from another one when she died). During the inquiry of her death, Dr. James attributed her death to "heat exhaustion and exposure". The coroners findings can be found here. Karl was rescued that same day.

The attending police officer later reported that the troopys tyres still had 34 lbs per sq inch of pressure. He dropped the tyre pressure down to 24, spent 10 minutes removing sand from under the vehicle and "then drove the vehicle out of the bog with minimal difficulty"

The couple were carrying a desert pass pack with all the right instructions: Stay with the vehicle, Stay in the shade, Conserve water, Prepare signals - eg fire, mirrors, and ground markings. They were carrying no recovery gear – not even a shovel and the vehicle was not in an impossible situation as evidenced by the relative ease of the attending police officer in shifting the vehicle. The pair were clearly ignorant of the effect of the high temperatures on the body even though Grosmueller was a medical student.

All in all a very sad story.

Regards

Pete
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 07:52

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 07:52
Hi Pete
Yes this is a typical story of a tragedy that should never have happened. It was a real talking point at the time and even today this type of accident is still waiting to happen through lack of respect and experience in the outback and not knowing a few golden rules about tyre pressures, sand driving and respecting the outback.

Also at the time there was a lot of talk about information that they were given from the Publican from William Creek.

Cheers

Stephen
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Follow Up By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:43

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:43
I agree about the "accident waiting to happen",

Two weeks ago we were at Mt Chambers Gorge camped for the evening on a day that had topped 34º. A young foreign couple came over and introduced themselves. They had hired a Hyundai Getz to travel the Northern Flinders as part of their tour of Oz.

No recovery gear, hardly any water, tourist map only. They had bumped their little car down a track that while not marked 4WD only, was very marginal for their vehicle. They had only stopped when they couldn't get any further. The far side of the camping area where we had settled in was not accessable to their car.

We were there for 24 hours and only saw them and one other vehicle. The next day on the way to the Gammons we didn't meet anyone.

So if they broke something in their little car (or even had 2 punctures!) down a side track on one of the hotter days later in the week they would have been dead in 48 hours unless they got lucky.

But you can't blame the hire car company for that one - Getz's are not the weapon of choice for outback travel.

Pete


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Follow Up By: Madfisher - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:09

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:09
Good day Pete,
A lot of tourist are also very vague where they intent taking the vehicle. We had a lass who hired a prado, told us she wanted to see the local sites like Hill end etc but instead took it to lake Eyre.We had to spend $2000 in repairs to the verhicle when she returned.
Cheers Pete
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Follow Up By: Member - Mike DID - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 16:26

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 16:26
And most people are ignorant of the fact that any hire-care insurance is null and void once they leave the bitumen - unless the rental agreement specifically allows driving on dirt roads.
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 08:30

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 08:30
What instuctions and recovery gear are in hired 4wds now? Have the hire companies taken any lessons from this and other tragic incidents?

Val.
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Follow Up By: OREJAP - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 08:48

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 08:48
I have seen tourists in hired 4WD driving in various locations in our vast land without any knowledge about how to drive the vehicle & without any recovery gear.Fraser Island a good example. Sometimes in life we make decisions which can & have the propensity for tragic results. Let's hope some lessons are learnt from this tragedy.
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Follow Up By: Madfisher - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:12

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:12
You could provide all necessary recovery gear, but after a few hires it would all be gone. We are forever buying hand trolleys for our pantechs, because people do not return them. Mind you we should be charging $75 deposit, then they would all come back.
CXheers Pete
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Follow Up By: Member - Timbo - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:42

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:42
John and Val, by the time the hire car company starts handing out various information packs for this, that and the other, how much of it do you think actually gets read, especially by tourists who want a to go sightseeing, not spend half their holidau reading volumes of legally-non-binding instructions all appended by pages of "don't blame us if it goes bad" disclaimers - and especially if english is a second language for them?
Even having warning stickers everywhere for too many mundane things begin to fade into the background 'noise' - how many of us have hired a car and driven off without reading all the airbag warnings on the sunvisor?!
As was also said in the original post, the couple had the 'Desert Parks Pass' info pack which gave information about staying with the vehicle etc.

Madfisher, isn't that why hire car companies always take the credit card imprint for the potential $2,000+ insurance excess? Doesn't it cover damage, accessories not returned with the vehicle or fuel not refilled etc.?
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Follow Up By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 14:39

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 14:39
True Timbo, but how about a big sticker somewhere on the dash that says:

"If in trouble stay with the vehicle"

The same line is in red on all the remote area warning signs you see everywhere - and was back then in 1998 as well.

If they had stuck with their bus Caroline would still be with us.

It was tragic however you look at it.

Pete
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Follow Up By: Member - Timbo - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 15:38

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 15:38
I agree Pete, it's tragic. And I agree that we should take steps try to reduce the risk of it happening again - I'm just not convinced warning stickers achieve a lot apart from protecting the hide of the hire company.

I think since that incident, EPIRBs have been much more often included with the hire of vehicles in remote areas - I suggest this is probably much more effective.

It seems one of the issues was that they thought no one would find them, an EPIRB lets people know where you are and that you need assistance. Secondly, people often ignore warnings:
* if they think their circumstances are an exception
* if they have already tried that and been unsuccessful (ie. they waited 2 days before setting off)
* if they think they know better than the warnings that were posted for the 'lowest common denominator' - how many of us have disregarded warnings thinking "It's okay, I know the risks and I'll be careful. The warning is for people who don't know what they're doing..."
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Follow Up By: Madfisher - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 18:34

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 18:34
Tim in regard to trolleys, quite often we only notice they are missing when we go to sweep the back out, standard reply is it was not their when we got the truck. The prado needed a new windsreen and the hole front re sprayed. Looked as though she was trasvelling very close in convoy and the vehicle got sand blasted. Boss never charged her,windsreen was fair wear and tear.
Cheers Pete
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Follow Up By: Member - Timbo - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 20:26

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 20:26
Understand Madfisher, rental agreements always seem so one-sided in favour of the rental company (at least from the perspective of the renter!) but I suspect a lot of people must really abuse rental cars.

Getting a bit OT, but I'd have thought the trolleys etc. would be listed on the rental agreement and before taking the truck, the renter signs the document that says it's included (just like how you have to agree all the scratches/chips etc. before you drive away, so you can't say "that was already there" if it's not listed on the agreement).
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Reply By: Willem - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 08:58

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 08:58
Pete

A timely reminder for those contemplating travelling our Desert Areas in the summer months.


Cheers
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Follow Up By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:32

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:32
Yes, it doesn't take long to get into trouble in the heat. See the videos about the tragedy in my reply below.

Regards

Pete
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Reply By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:27

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:27
Here is a nice little english doco about outback travel that gives some detail about the incident (from about the middle of the second part:







Regards

Pete
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Follow Up By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:31

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 09:31
Whoops that didn't work, youtube have blocked embedding on those vids

Here are links that work:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Cheers

Pete
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Follow Up By: Richard Kovac - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 17:57

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 17:57
Pete

They where good, funny how the links work now..

Cheers

Richard
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Reply By: Rob! - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:14

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:14
It was a very sad situation. One thing we must remember is that these people are not stupid, theu're simply inexperienced. As locals we gain this exepreince over a number of years. There are plenty of aussies who end up in simmilar tragic situation in the European Alpine regions.

The coroners report shows that the travelers had some knowedge but not enough exeprience.

"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)."

Coroners Report

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Follow Up By: Member - Timbo - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:50

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:50
The only problem is: how do ANY of us get experience?!

BTW: aside from the issue of tyre pressures, it's also not really a good time of year to be out in those areas (especially if you're from a part of the world where they send all the students home because it's too hot when the temperature reaches 28°C!). The info suggests a shade temperature of 40°C but I'd be surprised if it wasn't 50°C or more out there in late December. Had they been there at a cooler time of year, there also would have been many more travellers in the area - they probably would have waited half a day.

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Follow Up By: Rob! - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:56

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:56
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

So in this tragic situation one person is dead; the other is wiser.
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Reply By: ExplorOz - David & Michelle - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:59

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 13:59
Yes I remember this - in fact we were there in the following winter (in the days before EO) and was horrified at what had happened and took it very much to heart. The duty of care issue for hire car operators, and safety signage has been a major consideration in the outback ever since and will continue to be a hurdle for the industry. I think the issue is people take outback travel too lightly now that the outback is more accessible, and that we have mod cons and gadgets to make it exceptionally comfortable, even entertaining. But get separated even for a day from all that and people quickly fall prey to a mind that will play tricks on you when exhausted and fearful. Probably more of us should remember to brush up on the skills mentioned in our Outback Survival article. I enjoyed taking over some scenarios with Bob Cooper recently - he explains how our mind is the killer - often people die with water and shelter nearby because they simply panic or let their egos overtake common sense.
Thanks for the post Pete, a timely reminder.
Regards, Michelle
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Follow Up By: The Landy - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 17:46

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 17:46
"often people die with water and shelter nearby because they simply panic or let their egos overtake common sense."

....the Burke and Wills story is an example of what you are talking about.

It is a timely reminder...

Cheers



“Experience is a hard teacher,
you get the test first, the lesson
afterwards...”


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Reply By: signman - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 15:03

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 15:03
It's even 'eerie' just standing at that site !! Knowing the story and just imagining what she must have seen and felt !!

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Reply By: mikehzz - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 15:53

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 15:53
There is the issue of language as well. In Europe, everything is routinely displayed in many more languages than it is here. We tend to think that everyone should read and speak English The tourist may seem like they speak English but it may be a struggle for them to fully understand the Desert Parks pack if its not in their native language. We English speakers are fairly arrogant in this regard.

Mike
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Reply By: robertbruce - Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 17:10

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 at 17:10
.
most people get desert survival very wrong...

water, salt and "the ability to think under adverse situations" is what is needed...

no amount of anything else will save you....
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Reply By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Saturday, Nov 07, 2009 at 11:30

Saturday, Nov 07, 2009 at 11:30
Then again, you can post all the warnings in the world and it won't compensate for peoples stupidity....

Case in point - heading north up the Palmerville Station Road in August (and this is a fairly rough 4wd track) came over a blind rise to find two 4wd hire vehicles coming the other way in convoy at a rate of knots with no more than 6 feet between them. This alone would have been dangerous but what had my jaw hitting the floor was that the front vehicle had two young girls sitting on the roof cage with their legs dangling over the windscreen. I almost front-ended them. One good pothole and they both would have become lubricant for either of the vehicles diffs.

Parents and I traveling in separate vehicles wanted to turn around and have go at them, however there wasn't much room to turn around, and I wasn't going to punish my vehicle to catch them up...

However if someone had died, I'm sure the resulting court case would have pointed out that no-one warned them about sitting on a roof whilst the vehicle was in motion
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