Searing death in the desert
Date: November 8 2012
Marissa Calligeros Just six kilometres after leaving his vehicle South African Mauritz ''Mo'' Pieterse was dead, writes Marissa Calligeros.
IT'S vast and empty.
The searing heat saps strength and mental capacity.
Without shade or water a human does not last long in the Simpson Desert.
Mauritz ''Mo'' Pieterse, 25, died less than 12 hours after becoming stranded in that desert on Ethabuka Station, western Queensland, on Monday.
The South-African born passionate conservationist was experienced in the bush according to his employer and family, but a routine morning check of a bore site proved fatal for the 25-year-old station worker.
Mr Pieterse and his 30-year-old co-worker, Josh Hayes, set out from the station homestead on Monday morning. Their Toyota Hilux later became bogged about 16 kilometres to the south.
After several failed attempts to free their truck the pair decided to walk home, but they did not have enough water for the long journey in temperatures as high as 45 degrees.
When the men didn't return to the homestead by nightfall, others at the station set out looking for them.
Shortly before midnight Josh Hayes was found barely alive about 10 kilometres from the homestead by the owner of neighbouring Carlo Station, Greg Woods. Mr Pieterse's body was nearby.
Ethabuka Station, about 1600 kilometres west of Brisbane and 200 kilometres north of Birdsville, spans about 215,000 hectares in the northeast corner of the Simpson Desert.
Police Inspector Paul Biggin said it was not clear why they left their vehicle to brave the unforgiving conditions without adequate water.
''As to why they were caught out without water will be part of the investigation,'' he said.
Mr Hayes is recovering in Mt Isa Hospital after suffering extreme dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Speaking from the family's home in Western Australia yesterday Mr Pieterse's sister, Jani, said: ''Our family will never be the same again''.
She said she was sure her nature-loving sibling was ''doing the right thing'' when he made the maintenance check on the bore, as he was experienced in bush environments.
Ethabuka Station is owned by the conservation group Bush Heritage Australia, which is helping regenerate the site after degradation caused by cattle and feral camels.
The group's spokesman, David Whitelaw, said the men's vehicle was fitted with a working radio and added that Mr Pieterse had undergone safety training as recently as last week in Victoria.
''He [was] very passionate and dedicated to his work,'' he said of Mr Pieterse. ''The police have identified a few key elements as to what's occurred … we're keenly interested in what went wrong.''
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is also investigating the death.
The tragedy is reminiscent of the deaths of two young jackaroos in Western Australia more than 25 years ago.
James Annetts, 16, and Simon Amos, 17, died in the Great Sandy Desert in December 1986 after their utility got bogged.
Nearly five months later their remains were found, but the circumstances of their deaths are still unclear.