10 May 2023

How local knowledge paid off in search for missing woman

| Sarah Martin
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Juliana Castrillon with her rescuers Jeremy Edwards (left) and Amos Dick (right)

THE Bloomfield bushman who found a missing hiker after four days in dense rainforest near Home Rule said she was exactly where he expected her to be.

Amos Dick has spent a lifetime walking the mountainous jungle around Rossville and his hometown of Bloomfield and said he and fellow rescuer Jeremy Edwards found Juliana Castrillon at the spot they had pinpointed before starting their search.

“I thought if she had gone off the track anywhere, she would have gone down the creek,” Mr Dick said.

“She followed the normal protocols, she found the creek and set up her tent there in the most open place that she could get to. If the helicopters had flown low up the river, they might have seen her.”

Ms Castrillon, a Colombian national, was about halfway through the eight-hour hike from Cedar Bay on the coast to Home Rule, near Rossville, when she followed a gully instead of the track and became lost on September 10.

She had only light clothing, a small tent and no food, surviving on fresh water from Granite Creek.

“God told me in a small voice that I would be lost for four days without food,” Ms Castrillon told her rescuers.

Mr Dick said God also gave him confidence during the search, as he and Mr Edwards came across the historical Granite Creek tin mine with a sign that said ‘Gott Mit Uns’ – ‘God with us’ in German.

“We started our search at about lunchtime on Tuesday, and even though we suspected she was on Granite Creek, we had to be thorough and eliminate the whole area,” Mr Dick said.

“I had a bell and we were ringing it as we went.

“We walked until dark and then set up camp, then the next day started walking down the creek.”

Mr Dick said the pair had stopped for lunch and were building a fire when Ms Castrillon “jumped up” from behind a rock and called out.

“She wasn’t sure that we were looking for her, we waded through waist-deep water for about 40m to get to her and she was crying and saying she was lost, and we told her we knew all about it.”

The pair gave Ms Castrillon their remaining food, a piece of bread and some curry, and Mr Dick snapped a few photos for posterity.

“I told Juliana, this photo is for your book, and she asked me how I knew she was going to write a book about what happened,” he said.

“Jeremy actually spoke Spanish – even though Juliana has perfect English – which I think helped calm her down.”

Ms Castrillon attributes her survival to the tent she carried, and also to her good physical condition and mental strength.

“I think it’s all about mental stamina and about keeping calm and accepting what’s happening … because when you’re in that moment, knowing that you’re lost, you’re tempted to walk, and walking (without directions) can make things worse. Eventually, someone is going to report you missing,” she said.

“I meditated a lot, I prayed and tried to remain connected with my inner self, thinking that I also had the power to get out of there.

“What you have to do is stay within site, in a visible spot, that’s what I did. I went to look for a river so that the river would first give me water and then give me visibility.”

Once found, the trio began walking out and, within 30 minutes, came across another man coming up the creek searching.

“He was a Swiss bloke cooeeing out, coming up the creek and he probably would have found her if we hadn’t,” Mr Dick said.

“Half an hour later we bumped into seven SES blokes, and they put the message out to stop the search.”

After a three-hour hike back to Home Rule, Ms Castrillon’s emotional family filmed her as she made the final crossing of Wallaby Creek and was reunited with loved ones.

Some had flown in from Sydney to help with the search, which had already made national headlines.

It’s not the first time Mr Dick has been involved in search and rescue operations around his rainforest home.

He helped find a missing man in Cape Tribulation 20 years ago and remembers the desperate search for a missing four-year-old near Rossville when he was a child.

And just two months ago a friend of his went missing, also in the thick bush at Home Rule.

“She had left her phone at the waterfall and got lost when she went back to get it,” he said.

“We went in with pots and pans, banging and making noise, and it got dark, and we had to get torches.

“Thankfully, she was found after only a few hours, but it was a bit of a warm-up for this search.”

Ms Castrillon spent the week recuperating in Cairns with friends and family, before travelling back to her home and business in Byron Bay on Friday.

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