Body found at Bluff Knoll

Jessica Cuthbert and Saskia AdystiAlbany Advertiser
Acting superintendent, Alex Ryan
Camera IconActing superintendent, Alex Ryan Credit: Saskia Adysti

Search teams at Bluff Knoll have found a body believed to be that of missing Mandurah mother Lorjie Bautista.

A police spokesman said the body was found at the bottom of a steep incline in dense bush.

It was not close to any public trails.

“Search teams in the Bluff Knoll area have located a body whose identity is yet to be confirmed,” the spokesman said.

“The body is believed to be that of missing woman Lorjie Bautista.

“The body was located near the foot of a steep incline in a dense bush area, well away from public access trails.

“No further information will be provided this evening, police media will conduct a further release in the morning.”

The tragic discovery comes after it emerged earlier this afternoon that Mrs Bautista had recorded a video at Bluff Knoll last week.

Police has confirmed the footage was taken last Tuesday morning — the day Mrs Bautista was believed to have set out to climb Bluff Knoll.

Great Southern police acting superintendent Alex Ryan said they would use the footage to refocus their search area.

“Yesterday afternoon as a result of our ongoing investigation, WA police came into possession of some video footage from social media,” he said.

“The video is believed to have been taken by Lorjie Bautista on the morning of the 7th of May.

“We believe it was taken just below the north face of Bluff Knoll, at the base of the northern side, looking down towards the car park.”

Search crews returned to Bluff Knoll at first light this morning to resume the massive search.

The weather is expected to take a turn this week, with a 95 per chance of rain forecast for Thursday.

Ms Bautista could have spent seven nights without shelter in the Stirling Range National Park.

Police yesterday called for information from anyone who walked the notoriously challenging hike known as the Stirling Ridge Walk between Tuesday and Thursday of last week.

The Ridge Walk connects a series of peaks from Ellen Peak in the east to Bluff Knoll in the west.

Trails are unmarked and it can take several days to complete. Australian mountaineer Patrick Hollingworth, who has reached the summit of Mt Everest, has used it as a final training hit-out before tackling the Himalayas.

Police forward commander Brett Pengilly with SES volunteers at Bluff Knoll on Sunday.
Camera IconPolice forward commander Brett Pengilly with SES volunteers at Bluff Knoll on Sunday. Credit: Jessica Cuthbert

A WA Police Tactical Response Group vertical rope team has joined State Emergency Service rope specialists in the search for Mrs Bautista, who turned 39 on Sunday. Her Mandurah-based family has told police she was a fit woman who had wanted to climb Bluff Knoll.

Mrs Bautista was thought to have set out to climb Bluff Knoll before dawn on Tuesday but she did not sign the visitor register.

Staff at the nearby Stirling Ranges Retreat say they heard her leave for her hike about 4am.

Police say Mrs Bautista’s husband, Anand, contacted Stirling Ranges Retreat on Thursday concerned about her whereabouts. She had already checked out.

Missing woman Lorjie Bautista.
Camera IconMissing woman Lorjie Bautista.

A staff member from the retreat then saw her Subaru hatchback in the Bluff Knoll car park and reported her missing to police. Mrs Bautista’s husband and their 15-year-old daughter arrived at the search site on Saturday.

“It's very sad. Me and my daughter, we're so dying to see her and hope they'll find her today,” Mr Bautista said on Saturday. “I have a feeling she's still alive.”

Her older sister Dylin Bueno, who contacted the Albany Advertiser from the Philippines, said Mrs Bautista was expected to fly to the Philippines for her birthday. She said the family was “praying for her safety”.

“She is strong and has an ability to survive — that is her character,” she said.

“We’re still hoping she is alive.”

In the past five days, dozens of police officers, SES volunteers and Parks and Wildlife officers have been bolstered in their search efforts by helicopters, a drone and a tracker dog.

Great Southern police acting Superintendent Alex Ryan said police were using “anything they could get their hands on” to track down the missing woman.

Police air-wing assisting in the search.
Camera IconPolice air-wing assisting in the search. Credit: Jessica Cuthbert

They still held hopes for her at the weekend because of her age, fitness level and clothing but cold temperatures and rough terrain were concerns.

The mercury reached -0.5C on Friday morning at Stirling South weather station, about 10km from Bluff Knoll and near ground level.

Supt Ryan said yesterday rope teams had been brought in to cover terrain not accessible by foot.

He said no decision had been made on when the search efforts could be scaled back.

Supt Ryan said crews had mainly covered the higher reaches of Bluff Knoll and area along the main trail.

“Ridge Walk is separate to the main Bluff track. Once you get up there you can continue along the ridge for a further hike — if anyone was in the area they might have seen Lorjie,” Supt Ryan said.

He said police would keep searching despite fears Mrs Bautista might not have made it to the mountain.

“We are still continuing the search as normal,” he said.

“We believe she is up there.”

Anyone with information should call police on 1800 333 000.

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