CANBERRA, Australia -- Police found a body on Wednesday they suspect is the only casualty among three people who became stranded in the arid central Australian Outback almost two weeks ago.
Police have yet to formally confirm that the remains found south of the town of Alice Springs are of Claire Hockridge, 46. Police have not revealed details of the circumstances of the death, which will be investigated by a coroner, Northern Territory Police Superintendent Pauline Vicary said.
The body was found 8 1/2 kilometers (5.3 miles) from the highway that Hockridge had been attempting to reach, Vicary said.
Hockeridge, her partner Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, and their companion Phu Tran, 40, were in a SUV that became bogged in a dry riverbed during an afternoon sightseeing drive on Nov. 19.
McBeath-Riley, who had been driving and became lost, decided on Thursday to stay at a salty waterhole with the couple’s Staffordshire terrier while her companions attempted to trek toward a highway, carrying water and planning to walk at night to avoid the desert heat, which came close to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in recent days.
By that stage they had spent nine nights in the open with biscuits, instant noodles, bottled water and cans of pre-mixed vodka to sustain them.
McBeath-Riley and the dog were rescued by a search helicopter on Sunday after a cattle rancher alerted police to suspicious tire tracks, which lead searchers to the abandoned pickup truck.
Tran was found by cattle rancher Ted Fogarty on Tuesday. Tran and McBeath-Riley were both treated at an Alice Springs hospital for dehydration and exposure.
Fogarty said he found Tran at a water tank on his property where Tran had been drinking and cooling since Monday. Tran had last seen Hockeridge two days earlier following a fence line, Fogarty said.
“He said he was coming with me,” Fogarty told The Australian newspaper. “He was pretty happy to see me.”
Tran thanked Fogarty and police for his rescue.
"Ted, the landowner near the cattle farm, he's a battler, he's got 1,000 head of cattle and he dropped everything to make sure I was all right," Tran told reporters.
Hockridge's triplet sisters Sarah and Melinda reached Alice Springs before police made the tragic find. The sisters told reporters the search had been a "tremendously difficult and agonizing time.”
"We are all grieving and exhausted from the emotional roller coaster that we've ridden," Sarah Hockridge told reporters. “Even though Claire has died in terrible circumstances, we are glad Tamra and
Phu have been found alive and well and we're extremely grateful for everyone involved in that."
Claire Hockridge had two daughters, Teagan and Tahlia, and a grandchild.
Teagan posted on social media: "Devastated & heartbroken doesn't reach our pain in this time; we as a family appreciate the public's respect for our time of grief & while we come to terms with this reality. Mumma we love you."
Claire Hockridge and McBeath-Riley were living in Alice Springs and had been showing local landmarks to Tran, who was visiting Alice Springs from the south coast city of Adelaide.