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Student found alive almost a week after going missing on Gold Coast

By Dominic Cansdale, Tuesday February 18, 2020 - 00:22 EDT
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Ms Chen was found 300 metres from where she was last seen. - ABC licensed

A university student has been found alive but suffering from exposure after going missing during heavy rain and flash flooding in bushland in the Gold Coast Hinterland last week.

Yang Chen, 26, had been walking near Gorge Falls in Tallebudgera Valley last Wednesday morning, when her male companion lost sight of her.

Efforts to find her were hampered by wet weather, with the area drenched by more than 141 millimetres of rain in 24 hours.

Police divers joined the search on Monday morning, six days after she went missing.

Ms Chen was found by Gold Coast water police near Gorge Falls around 11:00am.

It is understood she had been sleeping in caves and drinking fresh water from nearby creeks for the past five nights.

Ms Chen was found 300 metres from where she was last seen but had climbed to an area about 30 metres above a waterfall.

Police 'left no stone unturned'

Acting Senior Sergeant Mitch Gray from the Water Police said Monday's search was "the last piece of the puzzle."

"It was the most difficult land search I've been involved with," he said.

"Today and tomorrow were sort of looking towards the end of the search time and I had that unfortunate feeling in my stomach that we weren't going to find her alive.

"I had knots in my stomach."

He said the police dive squad "definitely risked their lives" scaling a cliff face to reach Ms Chen while locals also assisted the search.

"There was no trail there, what they did to get her out of there was no short of amazing.

"We used local experts who lived there their whole lives, they we invaluable."

Acting Senior Sergeant Gray said the pair were separated after her partner attempted to climb higher at a junction near two waterfalls, but when he returned, Ms Chen was gone.

He said police "left no stone unturned" using resources in the search that ranged from the dog squad, drones, general duties staff, criminal investigators and the trail bike squad.

Ms Chen in 'good spirits' despite 'full on' conditions

Critical care paramedic Gary Berkowitz attended the scene and said Ms Chen was fortunate to have had "ample access to water".

"They found her in actually surprisingly good spirits," he said.

"She appeared quite well, she walked to the ambulance, and a kindly gentleman who lived next to the national park made a sandwich for her, which she no doubt enjoyed."

Mr Berkowitz said it was lucky that poor weather conditions seen last week had eased in more recent days.

"She had lost her shoes and I believe that one of the QPS officers had given her socks to wear so her feet could be protected for the walk down.

"She certainly looked like she'd been through quite a trauma."

A spokesperson for Bond University, where Ms Chen was studying in her second semester, welcomed the news that she had been found.

"We have been in regular contact with Yang's parents, who are overjoyed with the news," they said.

"Yang's friends and classmates are also being informed."

Tallebudgera Valley local Ian Beddowes called police after being told Ms Chen had gone missing by another woman last Wednesday morning.

The woman had been alerted by Ms Chen's partner while walking in the area herself.

"We walked up the creek from my place and my son walked up the creek and we searched everything," he said.

"It was rough going."

Mr Beddowes said he walked around the area where Ms Chen went missing "every day".

"It's relatively safe if you're careful and fit," he said.

But he said conditions on the day after Ms Chen went missing, when search efforts were suspended due to poor weather conditions, were "full on".

"On Thursday [the creek] was about 2 metres high so they couldn't resume the search, we couldn't get in, no-one could get out.

But, he added, "When it stops raining it goes down relatively fast".

Extensive search efforts during record rainfall

This month was the wettest February on record for the Gold Coast, with 515mm of rain falling on the Seaway in just the first two weeks.

Police searched Tallebudgera Creek Road in the hours after Ms Chen was reported missing, but suspended their efforts due to heavy rainfall.

Police officers and surf lifesavers searched waterways over the weekend.

An aerial search by Queensland Police's PolAir was also conducted, while the SES searched from Springbrook to Tallebudgera Valley.

Ms Chen has been taken to Robina Hospital.


© ABC 2020

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