SOS in sand saves Briton lost in Australian outback

Geoff Keys from Kent saved by helicopter after trying to find waterfalls in northern Queensland

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A 63-year-old British tourist who became lost in the Australian outback has told of how he was rescued by helicopter thanks to a message he wrote in sand.

Writing in his blog, Geoff Keys from Dartford, Kent, detailed the events that led to his disappearance while travelling through the Jardine National Park in the state of Queensland.

Keys had been trying to find an isolated waterfall, which he had thought was only 2km away, and set off in the afternoon wearing only "swimming trunks, a pair of swimming shorts over them, a T-shirt and a hat".After being unable to locate the waterfalls, Keys decided to turn around and head back to his campsite. It was then that he made what he describes as "one of the stupidest decisions ever".

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"Instead of turning round and swimming back upstream, I decided to take to the bush and cut across to the track. It was nearly dark. I had no shoes. What was I thinking of?" he wrote.

Keys quickly became lost in the bush and continued wandering until around 2am when he decided to sleep for the night. At the same time the people whom he was camping with alerted the authorities and helicopters were dispatched to search the area.

The next day the Brit decided to swim downstream before reaching a sandy beach, where he used a stick to write the SOS message "HELP" along with the date and his direction of travel.

After another day and night of sleeping wild, Keys was discovered and winched to safety after his message was spotted by rescuers.

Police told the Brisbane Times that writing the message had probably saved Keys' life as they were in the process of re-routing the helicopter pilot when they saw it.

Search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Constable Brad Foat said the message was "the first good clue we had" and that the search had been the toughest he had faced.

"The details were very sketchy, given that the man was a lone traveller having only befriended nearby campers just days earlier," he said.

After a stint in a nearby hospital, Keys was free to resume his travels.

"It's safe to say that I'm very grateful to everyone involved in my rescue," he wrote. "Their skill and professionalism is incredible. I feel stupid but lucky."

The Guardian reports that Keys, who is separated with three grown-up children, now plans to travel to Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the US.

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