A SEARCH of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest state forest for missing Victorian man Sidney Clark has been suspended, six days after the 79-year-old was reported missing from Chinchilla on Queensland’s Western Downs.
Mr Clark was last seen on Monday May 29 in the tiny town of Durong, 90km north east of Chinchilla, and his car was found abandoned in the vast and isolated Barakula State Forest on Wednesday morning.
A four-day search of the dense Barakula bush involved dozens of police, SES and rural fire brigade personnel, as well as stock quad officers on horseback and motorbikes, Aboriginal trackers, sniffer dogs, helicopters and a thermal imaging Challenger jet deployed from Cairns.
At 283,000 hectares, the Barakula forest covers an area slightly larger than the entire country of Luxembourg.
A single boot print was found Thursday about 7km east of Mr Clark’s older model Jeep Cheroke.
Police confirmed the track didn’t belong any cattlemen who leased parts of the forest, nor was it created by a group of pig hunters who’d been through the area in recent days.
But there was no conclusive evidence that the print belonged to Mr Clark.
Acting Inspector Greg Wheeler said that by Sunday the search team had “exhausted all avenues”.
“We searched until just before dark yesterday before we decided to suspend the main air and ground search at this stage,” Wheeler said.
“We believe we’ve exhausted all avenues to locate Sid in the immediate search area. Localised strategies are going to continue, through lessees of that country and national park rangers.
“We’ve liaised closely with his loved ones and discussed the sad news with regard to the likelihood of his survival.”
Mr Clark had moved to Chinchilla from Victoria, to enjoy some finer weather in his old age, only a week before he went missing.
He was still in the process of moving into a rental property and had mysteriously travelled to Durong on Monday with a borrowed trailer in tow.
“We’re assuming he has borrowed a trailer to further his move into his new house,” Wheeler said.
“We don’t have the answer to that (why he travelled to Durong) at this stage.
“He’s been seen by local residents there, he turned around towards Chinchilla and we believe he’s then unhitched the trailer and then driven back towards Chinchilla and somehow ended up off the Chinchilla-Wondai Rd in the Barakula area near Turkey Mountain.
“We’re not sure what would have turned him off down that dirt road.
“We don’t know whether the vehicle has actually broken down or not. We haven’t yet been able to do a mechanical inspection of it. We think Sid took the car key with him so we haven’t been able try and start the vehicle.”
The vehicle was found on Wednesday morning by a forest lessee near the base of Turkey Mountain, an elevated vantage point and one of few well known locations in Barakula.
The search team couldn’t confirm whether Mr Clark, when he left his vehicle, had stuck to the dirt road along which he’d apparently travelled into the forest.
Aside from livestock, pigs and brumbies, thermal imaging from a heat-seeking Challenger jet revealed multiple hotspots that were “of interest” on Wednesday night.
“But those hotspots were due to the forestry being burnt out in the last three to four weeks and there was a couple of still-smouldering hotspots,” Wheeler said.
“We were initially hoping that maybe Sid built a fire, but that wasn’t the case.”
Mr Clark has no surviving immediate family.
Close friend Evelin Bekers, who travelled to Chinchilla from Victoria during the search, said the fact that he hadn’t made contact with her on Monday afternoon was out of character.
“He’s a very special friend and it’s horrible,” she said.
“He’s got health issues and he thought Chinchilla would be much better for him.
“I’d only left him on Sunday and he went missing on Monday. I know that on Monday he was going to change his licence and bring back a trailer to a friend.
“I think he got lost because he doesn’t know the area and got frustrated. He gets very flustered when things don’t work out. He gets disorientated.
“To not make contact with me, especially, is out of character because he’s been so close to me these last couple of months and he really relied on me helping him and leading him in the right direction.
“To not ring me (is out of character). He rung me Sunday afternoon, he rung me Monday morning and he would have rung me Monday afternoon but the call never came.”
Acting Inspector Greg Wheeler said: “We thank each and every person who has assisted us and provided support during the search.”