Police have called on the public for help in their search efforts for 58-year-old Ballogie woman Helen Free, admitting they are stumped by the rough terrain of the area where she went missing last Sunday.
Murgon officer Brett Everest, who serves as the Acting Inspector for the South Burnett Patrol Group, addressed the public during a press conference in Toowoomba on Wednesday afternoon, 1 November, giving the latest updates on the search for Ms Free.
Helen Free, 58, was reported missing from her home on J Hunters Road, Ballogie on the evening of Sunday, 29 October; she is around 168 centimetres tall, has tanned white skin, and a proportionate build with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Police and Ms Free’s family are concerned for her wellbeing, as she lives with a medical condition similar to dementia, which means she struggles to understand where she is going or coming from or communicate with others.
Ms Free previously went missing in the same manner on 30 September but was quickly found by police; however this time, searchers are struggling to locate her in the dense and harsh bush around Ballogie, west of Wondai.
“We’ve got very genuine, grave concerns for Helen and her whereabouts, (…) because the area where she’s gone missing is very dense bushland,” Insp Everest said on Wednesday.
The search efforts, which started on Monday morning, now include ground crews by both police and the State Emergency Service, specialist trackers, drones and helicopters with infrared cameras, and even a dive squad to check the area’s various creeks and water holes.
The Inspector said police at this stage had no clearly-identified area of where Ms Free may have gone to.
“Unfortunately, that area is such a dense, very wide and vast bush area; it’s very difficult to search that area,” Insp Everest said.
“Given the rural location, she could have travelled in absolutely any direction, and that’s what’s very difficult for our searching.
“There are a lot of natural obstacles out in that area such as thickness of the bushland, rutted-out areas of the ground where you can’t climb down into, water sources, fence lines and so forth.
“It’s unlikely that she would have continued to walk into a straight line – she would have been changing her direction given the structures she came across,” the Inspector said.
As search efforts now go into their fourth day, police are calling on residents of the Ballogie area as well as any other members of the public to help look for Ms Free.
“The area out there is so large and encompasses such a wide area of rural properties, that for us to search every single structure, shed and abandoned vehicle, we require the public’s assistance,” Insp Everest said.
“If anyone is in the Ballogie area that has a large property with any structures on it, we urge you to please search them and contact police with any information. [Helen] may be seeking shelter in one of those areas or structures.”
Drivers passing through the area are also asked to keep an eye out for a woman matching Ms Free’s description.
“We’re not ruling out the possibility that she may have been picked up by a member of the public and transported somewhere,” Insp Everest said.
“In the state of mind she was in, someone may have been thinking they were doing her a service by taking her somewhere. If anyone has transported someone that’s matching the description of Helen, please let us know as soon as you can.”
With the ongoing hot and dry conditions across the Burnett, police fear that time may quickly be running out to recover the missing 58-year-old safely.
“We’re now at the time where we really need the public’s assistance to go and search those properties they’re on,” Insp Everest said.
“Unfortunately now, where we’re talking a number of days and given the heat that’s been out there, we don’t believe she’s got access to any water – she certainly doesn’t have a phone or supplies with her.
“If you’ve got motorbikes, four-wheel drives, please get out there, please start searching those bush tracks – you would know those areas a lot better than police.”
If you have information for police, contact Policelink by providing information at www.police.qld.gov.au/reporting.
Quote this reference number: QP2301808823.