Overlanding Family Stranded by Flood in Aussie Desert Will Be Airlifted Out

A helicopter rescue was planned as the family began conserving water due to hot weather.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Traveling in the Australian outback comes with plenty of risks. Help is often far away, and there are many hazards to trip up even the well-prepared adventurer. One Australian family has found themselves in just such a situation, when their camper became stuck in the Simpson Desert due to sudden and unexpected floods. After days of being bogged in the desert mud, the family will today be rescued by helicopter, reports ABC News.

Orios and Lindsey Zavros set out with their two children, Zoe and Zane, in November 2020. The family have been exploring Australia in their Mitsubishi Canter truck, carrying a well-equipped camper of their own construction. Having traveled through several states, the family's vehicle became stuck in the Simpson Desert as a result of torrential rains late last week. The family activated an emergency EPIRB beacon on Friday morning after the vehicle was bogged, alerting the Australian Maritime Safety Authority of their situation. 

Australian Maritime Safety Authority

The family was found to be safe and well, though initial reports from authorities suggested they could be stuck in the desert for weeks as the area remains impassable to land vehicles. Graham Scott, owner of the Mt Dare hotel roughly 80 kilometers from the stranded family, notes that conditions remain difficult in the area. "All the roads around here are partially under water. There are vast flat areas that have still got water laying on them, and where the water has recently been on the roads, it'd be a quagmire if you tried to get through," said Scott.

Supplies were dropped to the family via a Bombardier Challenger 604 aircraft operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, who are coordinating the rescue effort with SA Police. With days of hot weather on the horizon, police have elected to instead arrange a rescue operation by helicopter. The helicopter left on the morning of November 16, local time, carrying a paramedic on board. The four members of the family will then be flown to the Olympic Dam airport, approximately 500 km from where the family became stuck. The camper truck will be left behind to be recovered at a later date.

Theo Zavros, mother to Orios, told ABC News that the family was concerned about conserving water with hot days ahead and that they'd "had enough" of being stuck in the desert. Speaking of the family's three-year old, Zoe, Zavros said that the young girl was "a little bit sensitive to everything, so I can't wait to speak to her."

The family has covered their journey on social media along the way. As seen in a walkthrough on YouTube, the family built the camper themselves on the back of a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Canter truck. As reported by Jalopnik, the family are experienced overlanders, having navigated thousands of kilometers through several states, only becoming stuck due to the sudden rainfall in the Simpson Desert. It comes amidst surprise heavy rains in late spring across the state of South Australia, often cited as the driest state in the country.

As featured in an interview with Expedition Portal, the family's camper is remarkably well equipped. It sports upgraded leaf springs and remote-reservoir shocks, along with winches front and rear, rated for 17,000 pounds and 12,000 pounds respectively. The truck also carries MaxTrax, snatch straps and shackles as you'd expect. There's also a compressor on board for airing up tires after they've been aired down. Notably, the truck lacks locking differentials, relying instead on the standard rear LSD fitted to the Canter as stock. However, given the deep mud common on Australian deserts, fitting lockers may not have made any difference. 

Peter Moore, owner of the Oodnadatta Pink Roadhouse, indicated that the rescue helicopter will land at the facility for refueling before heading out to the desert to recover the family. "The local police came this morning and said that drum of avgas we got dropped off here two days ago … is required for the chopper coming up from Adelaide," said Moore. The roadhouse is roughly 200 km from the area where the family are stranded.

Deserts can be tough to escape when surprise rains hit; it's easy for vehicles to be trapped far from civilization. Recovery can be difficult and is often expensive, too. Seemingly solid surfaces can quickly turn to mush, and the featureless landscape often provides little to no potential winch points for self-rescue. 

With temperatures set to exceed 104 F in coming days, expediting the rescue operation makes sense given that regular aerial water drops to the family would likely be more taxing on resources for the emergency services. The family has been able to communicate with authorities via satellite phone in the meantime. Authorities hope to reach the family by helicopter at roughly midday local time, with the Western Australian family keen to end their ordeal sooner rather than later.

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