Missing woman’s family “praying for her safety” as search reaches fourth day

Jessica Cuthbert, Saskia AdystiAlbany Advertiser
VideoPolice say they are using “anything they can get their hands on” in a desperate search for a woman who could have spent three nights exposed to the elements on Bluff Knoll.

Police will persist with the full-scale search for a missing Mandurah mother at Bluff Knoll despite fears she never made it to the mountain.

The family of Lorjie Bautista are “praying for her safety” as police and SES volunteers comb the ground near WA’s highest peak, supported by helicopters, a drone and a tracker dog.

The massive search, involving more than 50 emergency services personnel, is coming to the end of its fourth day — Ms Bautista’s birthday. It will continue at first light tomorrow if she has not been found.

Ms Bautista, 39, was thought to have set out to climb Bluff Knoll about 4am on Tuesday, but it was revealed yesterday she did not sign into the visitor register.

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

Police say Ms Bautista’s husband contacted the retreat on Thursday worried about her whereabouts. She had already checked out.

A staff member from the retreat then saw her Subaru hatchback in the Bluff Knoll car park and reported her missing to police.

Last night could have been Ms Bautista’s fifth exposed to the elements at Bluff Knoll, where temperatures have dropped below zero in the past few days.

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

Speaking at Bluff Knoll this afternoon, police forward commander Brett Pengilly said authorities were focusing their efforts on the search.

“It is a long time (to be without shelter) and we will focus on concentrating on this area and still put all of our resources into searching,” Sen-Sgt Pengilly said.

“Today we have the police, we have the SES, we have a rope crew, we’ve got aerial support and a drone and we’re always just looking for extra resourcing.

“We’re focusing our efforts here. We strongly believes she’s in this area. The car was here so there’s no other evidence to indicate otherwise.”

Ms Bautista’s husband, Anand, and their 15-year-old daughter arrived at the search site yesterday.

“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 yesterday.

“I have a feeling she's still alive.”

Albany drone operator Brad Harkup helping with the search.
Camera IconAlbany drone operator Brad Harkup helping with the search. Credit: Saskia Adysti

Police still held hopes for her because of her age, fitness and clothing, but there were serious concerns about the freezing temperatures and difficult terrain.

“We’re not ruling anything out or in at this time,” Great Southern Police District Office Senior Inspector Alex Ryan said yesterday.

“At this point in time, our effort is directed to the search here and that’s our primary focus.”

Ms Bautista’s older sister, Dylin Bueno, made contact with the Albany Advertiser from her home in the Philippines.

She said Ms Bautista was a survivor.

“We’re still hoping she is alive. She is strong and has an ability to survive — that is her character,” Ms Bueno said.

Emergency services personnel at a briefing on Saturday morning.
Camera IconEmergency services personnel at a briefing on Saturday morning. Credit: Saskia Adysti

Ms Bueno said her sister, an Australian citizen, was originally from the Philippines.

“We’re so worried about her,” she said.

“She is my youngest sister. Our family is praying for her safety.

“I live in (the) Philippines. Lorjie and her family live in Australia — that’s why we can’t do anything to find her.

“We’re waiting for the decision of our parents if one of us will come there.

“Please don't stop searching for we are crying and praying for her.”

Police officers searching for Lorjie Bautista at Bluff Knoll.
Camera IconPolice officers searching for Lorjie Bautista at Bluff Knoll. Credit: Jessica Cuthbert

Today — Mother’s Day — was her sister’s birthday.

“She (was) planning to come here (to the) Philippines to spend her birthday with us,” she said.

A contingent of 50 police officers, SES volunteers and other emergency services personnel were involved in the search yesterday.

A police helicopter, a private helicopter and a drone patrolled the air while a tracker dog bolstered search efforts on the ground.

Late on Friday, Great Southern Police District Office Senior Inspector Alex Ryan said authorities were using “anything they could get their hands on” to track down the missing woman.

Great Southern Police District Office Senior Inspector Alex Ryan.
Camera IconGreat Southern Police District Office Senior Inspector Alex Ryan. Credit: Jessica Cuthbert

There was no indication the search would be scaled back today.

“She told her family she was going to climb Bluff Knoll. She’s on days off and it was something she wanted to do,” Insp. Ryan said.

Insp. Ryan said those planning to climb Bluff Knoll should be prepared for a “dramatic change in weather”.

“Overnight temperatures are pretty low so we’re concerned about that in relation to her welfare,” Insp. Ryan said.

“But the terrain is particularly difficult. It’s precipitous and very hard to search.”

SES volunteers involved in the search at Bluff Knoll.
Camera IconSES volunteers involved in the search at Bluff Knoll. Credit: Jessica Cuthbert

“We’ll keep going. She’s a 38-year-old woman. She’s in good health, she’s got reasonable clothing on. We’ll continue to search.”

SES Great Southern district officer Gary Logan said crews were searching a “two to three kilometre area” after abandoning the search after nightfall on Thursday.

“We have crews from Albany, Mt Barker, Denmark and Gnowangerup searching on foot, with the assistance of a helicopter and search dog from the Albany SES Unit,” Mr Logan said.

“There terrain is thick and rugged. At this stage we are looking for the missing woman and signs of her being here.

“We do have grave concerns for her welfare.”

SES volunteers searching at Bluff Knoll.
Camera IconSES volunteers searching at Bluff Knoll. Credit: Jessica Cuthbert

Police have examined Ms Bautista’s car, which was found at Bluff Knoll car park

A WA Police spokeswoman said they were notified about 1.30pm on Thursday.

Ms Bautista wearing a grey jumper, black jacket, blue jeans and red/black runners.

She was described as olive skinned and about 157cm tall with a slim build and black hair.

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 131 444.

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