Shannon Leah Fraser, disappeared September 21st, 2014, Found alive October 7th, 2014, Golden Hole, Innisfall, Queensland, Australia
On September 21st, 2014, Shannon Leah Fraser, 30, visited the Golden Hole swimming spot, north-west of Innisfail, about an hour south of Cairns in Queensland, Australia.
She followed her partner, Heath Cassady, for a walk, but became separated and disappeared into the rainforest near Josephine Falls. She had proposed to him two days before she went missing. She was only wearing leggings, thongs and a shirt and had no supplies with her.
Her panicked fiancé, Heath Cassidy, wandered the bushland for three hours calling for Shannon before he called the police and reported her missing. Emergency crews spent 800 hours scouring the area but with no luck. The area was snake, crocodile and spider-infested bushland, dangerous terrain which was very difficult to walk through. 15 days after she disappeared, the search was suspended and her family began to face the reality that Shannon had died. Police thought she may have been murdered or even taken by a croc.
When hope was fading after Shannon was missing for 16 nights and the search effort had ended, a banana farmer, Brad Finch, who was eating his breakfast at Golden Hole, saw her emerge from dense bush on October 7th. The spot was about 30 metres from where she was last seen.
She had survived on river water, small fish and insects and had lost around 37.5 pounds (17 kilograms) in weight. She was also severe sunburn with her skin all over so badly sunburned she nearly bled, splinters in her feet and was dehydrated. The trees had ripped off her clothes so she was naked, except for a fertiliser bag wrapped around her.
Shannon told the authorities that for 16 nights she had cried herself to sleep, but the thought of her three children made her persevere each day to reach safety. She was that exhausted, she couldn't walk and just felt like giving up. When the sunburn took its toll, she laid in the river for three days to sooth her skin in the fresh water which flows from Queensland's highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere.
She was taken to Innisfail Hospital where she quickly recovered from the ordeal. Her incredible tale of survival triggered doubts with thoughts that it could have been an elaborate prank. Police even said they were confident the extensive 800-hour search would have located her but after she was examined her wilderness-ravaged appearance her disappearance gave credence to her story being legitimate.
Brad Finch said “Even now it’s pretty unbelievable, I had to really think about it when I was telling the detectives but if you’d seen her you wouldn’t doubt her story. It was the worst sunburn I’ve ever seen ... everywhere, almost bleeding.. She had quite a big gash on one of her legs which looked like it might have been done when she first got lost, that was healing up but looked like it was pretty bad.”
Finch said Shannon told him about her ordeal as he drove her to the hospital saying she had a fight with her fiancee, who she and a friend had gone swimming with, and ran into the bush. Upon realising she was lost, she sought higher ground, which led her away from the river and the tracks that would have guided her back to safety. Incredibly, she decided to climb Mt Bartle Frere, which took a whole day of walking. The area would take hours to get a few hundred metres even with a machete and Finch said. “No rescuer or search party in their right mind would try to walk up that hill looking for someone.”
With an awareness of the dangers of the river Shannon said she tried to stay inland, but after 12 days she had no choice but to face the water, and the crocodiles, to see if she could find her way out. By this stage she was delirious, naked, starving and covered in cuts and bruises that had become infected.
Swimming downstream she then crawled onto a rock in the middle of the river to sleep and waited on that rock for another three days, too terrified to get back in the water while she was menstruating. Exposed to the blistering sun and burning on the rock, she suffered intense burns to her whole body.
At the end of her ordeal, Shannon said “I feel like I’ve grown a bit wiser. I think I’ve aged a bit too. I won’t take life for granted again. Life’s too short.”
After sixteen days in the Australian bush with crocodiles, snakes and other nasties it is an amazing story of survival for Shannon Fraser. It also illustrates that when search and rescue teams give up looking for someone after a few days when temperatures are benign, it can be too hasty and that further efforts can be warranted.