Army efforts bolster search for Luke

Members of the Queensland Police Service, freshly returned from the search, debrief and plan how to proceed. Pictures: Julian Lehnert 341971_04

The search for missing Proston man Luke Fergusson is entering its eighth day, with a combination of police, emergency services, armed forces members and volunteers from all over southern Queensland joining in their efforts to ‘bring Lukey home’.

Luke James Fergusson, 28, was reported missing from his Proston Abbeywood Road home on the evening of Friday, 9 June.

He lives with autism and echolalia and has only recently moved to the area with his family from Rockhampton; as a result of recent low overnight temperatures, his family hold concerns for his wellbeing.

A search party once again assembled at Luke’s family’s 307 Proston Abbeywood Road property on Friday morning, 16 June, marking one week since he was first reported as missing.

The group, which for the first time since the search began was joined by members of the Australian Defence Force that day, set out from their headquarters on foot and horseback, atop motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles, as well as in cars, bolstered by air support and advanced drone technology.


Queensland Police Service District Inspector Scott Stahlhut, who was stationed at the search’s hub to direct the groups looking for Luke, explained that searchers were employing a variety of methods to cover the most ground and varied types of terrain as possible.

Inspector Stahlhut said police first flew an air asset over the immediate area the night Luke was reported missing, then dispatched officers to the location the following morning.

The search radius was expanded to a five kilometre radius around Luke’s home, and on Sunday an additional search perimeter of the same size was established at the the location of his last sighting, near a gully several kilometres away.

Insp Stahlhut said police assets involved in the search now include members of the Stock Squad from southern Queensland, personnel on motorcycles specially trained for off-road travel, and a dive squad used to plot water courses and dams.

He explained that, while police are using all means at their disposal, the role of volunteers in the search effort cannot be underestimated, especially if it includes locals with special skillsets, such as being able to ride horses.

“If we’re looking at motorbikes, ATVs and other vehicles, our search is mostly limited to sight, due to the ambient noise of the vehicles,” Insp Stahlhut explained.

“On horseback and on foot, you’re seeing but also hearing. We’ve used horses a lot here, and most of that capability has come from members of the public,” he added.

The search for Luke also continues by air.

Inspector Stahlhut explained that, over the past seven days, police have employed the help of a Challenger jet aircraft from Victoria which used thermal imaging hardware, a highly-manoeuvrable Robinson R22 light helicopter to view below tree lines at dense sections of bushland, and RACQ LifeFlight helicopters Rescue 522 from Bundaberg and 511 from the Sunshine Coast, each of which have a pilot, navigator and medical team on board.

“Luke lives with a medical condition, and we’re speaking to his mum and a medical professional about how this impacts how we search for him,” Insp Stahlhut explained.

“We employ atypical strategies from a search perspective, because he’s not necessarily going to follow roads, fences, gullies or creeks, or go to structures.

“Consequences are not something Luke may think about, so he may discard a jumper if he’s hot during the day without thinking that the night is going to be cold at that he might need it.

“That’s only a small part of it, but there are many other aspects we’re considering as well.

“He may still be alive if he has found shelter and food. Alternatively, he may have been picked up by someone and is now somewhere else – we can’t discount that.

“Luke can walk, we know that for sure – he’s done 40 kilometres before, but that was along roads he’d travelled on time and time again, and this here is a new area for him,” Insp Stahlhut added.

On Friday, the latest news from police included the discovery of footprints that could belong to Luke, which officers were in the process of tracking, and a potential sighting of a person at a property east of Hivesville.


However, the search parties were not limited to police alone, as State Emergency Services volunteers also flocked to Proston to lend a hand.

According to Scott Barry, the Local Controller for South Burnett’s SES, well over 100 workers from as far as Biggenden and Gayndah in the North Burnett, as well as the Sunshine Coast and Gympie regions have joined in the search thus far.

Mr Barry said SES crews are using ATVs and patrolling on foot, with his crews now expanding their search out beyond Proston to Mount McEuen to the south-east, where they are paying particular attention to roadside culverts, drainage ditches, bushes and abandoned cars, which they believe Luke may be seeking shelter in.

The SES Controller, who joined the search the day it officially began and who had been at the search headquarters since then to liaise with police, said that his team field an average of 20 volunteers each day.

“The guys have just worked their guts out, and I am so proud of them,” Mr Barry said.

“We’re putting out a big push now that we have the weekend coming up to get even bigger numbers out over the next two days, and to really push through some country to get Luke home.”


Friday also marked the arrival of the Australian Defence Force at Proston, which had scrambled around 40 personnel, mainly members of the 11th Brigade from Brisbane, to aid in the search.

According to Major Stephen Smit of the 25th/49th Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment, the Army received an official request for aid on Wednesday, 14 June, arriving on Thursday afternoon to begin searching on Friday.

Joining the around 40 Army members are 14 soldiers of the Australian Army Aviation Training Centre at Oakey, and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team from the 5/11th Battery, Royal Australian Artillery.

ADF personnel are using drones, equipped with cameras and thermal imaging components to perform sweeps of the search areas, using estimates of Luke’s latest movements as determined by a collaborative effort between police, SES, and soldiers.

“The Queensland Police Service have asked us to search an area of pretty dense woodland, which the SES have gone to previously but where the nature of the ground is very difficult; they want us to give it another search,” Major Smit explained.

“Visibility there is very low, and it’s very hard going. Our troops are there right now and they’re making about 400 to 500 metres an hour,” he added.


To keep the scores of volunteers and servicemembers fed and alert, a number of Proston area locals have come together to provide free food and refreshments to those involved in the search.

‘Mon-Dee Coffee 2 Go’ van owners Pat and Alan Eagleson were on site, as was a contingent of members of the Queensland Country Women’s Association’s Proston branch.

Branch president Val Klein said that her group had begun setting up catering at the search headquarters the moment they heard of the news Luke went missing, and that for three days, CWA members brought and handed out their own food and drink to the searchers – until local shops ran dry.

Now, bolstered by a wave of donations from businesses like Kingaroy’s Endeavour Foundation branch and Swickers, as well as those of Burnett locals looking to help, the CWA’s members can continue to offer hot breakfasts, lunches and dinners to all volunteers.

Ms Klein said she and her group – as well as members of community organisations like the Proston Show Society – would continue to lend aid to the volunteers for as long as there were still searchers on the ground.

“We have soldiered on, and we’ll do it ’til the end – whatever happens,” she said.

“We’ve got to support Luke’s mother and family – that’s what we do. My heart goes out to them,” Ms Klein added.


As search efforts for Luke have now gone on for an entire week, police and the other organisations involved in the recovery operation are looking to broaden their range, and are more than ever calling on members of the public to do their part in looking for the missing Proston man.

“What we want people to do now is to not lose focus of the search area here, but still to look further afield,” Inspector Stahlhut explained.

“It’s been seven days. He could be in someone’s shed, barn or haystack. Luke is not scared of the dark, livestock isn’t an issue for him,” he said.

Police believe Luke could also be attempting to travel north to his previous hometown of Rockhampton by hailing rides and sleeping rough along the way.

“If anyone sights Luke, the first thing to do is call 000 and keep an eye on him. He may not come toward people and might actually move away,” Insp Stahlhut explained.

“For people he is close with, he responds to ‘Lukey’.”

To find out more on how to participate in the search for Luke, visit